Getting Real: Authenticity as a Building Block of Business Acumen

Lately, a lot has been written about soft skills and the importance of relationships, especially as emerging leaders earn greater credibility and become more visible.   This isn’t really anything new.  Most understand that good relationship in the work environment tends to foster greater levels of communication and collaboration, all building blocks of business acumen.

At Business Acumen Institute (BAI), our research shows that authenticity – not the term itself – but the act of being authentic, true to oneself, or just “real” is vitally important.   Therefore, this article is crafted to provide some hints for you to build your authentic self. By association, perhaps you can assist or coach others as they navigate their leadership careers.

One of BAIs clients is one of the largest transportation firms in the world.  An executive in this company reminded us in another BAI article: “Businesses need people with the ability to lead teams across diverse audiences, diverse groups and particularly, across generations … this means the ability to communicate respectfully, manage conflict and solve problems collectively.”

Managers and leaders are more likely to execute this level of communication consistently if they choose to be their authentic selves at work.

Authentic leaders listen.

We know people are more productive at work when communicating with management is a two-way conversation, and the manager does most of the listening. They listen actively, showing respect for the speaker with eye contact, honest interest, and patience as the speaker forms their thoughts.  Listening builds trust, and trust builds loyalty in leadership.

They make personal connections.

Bill George, former Medtronic CEO and senior fellow at Harvard Business School, wrote in a 2015 Forbes article about how authentic leaders lead with the heart, prioritizing connected relationships.  Yes, that means listening, but it also means caring. Caring about employees is key to authenticity. Ask about their spouse, kids, weekends, etc., frequently. Inauthenticity means trying to connect once a year during annual reviews.

They lead with their character.

New leaders may feel pressured to act authentically due to the overwhelming nature of leading others for the first time. They may try to sound and act overly authoritative out of concern they won’t be respected. However, Bill George also made the point that authentic leadership is not about style. It’s about character. Your team will respect honesty and integrity, which may manifest as simply saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you,” versus trying to fake it – or pretending that you can but don’t.

They behave like a mensch.

A Yiddish expression with roots in German means “human.” It roughly translates into being a good and eminently decent person who exhibits the traits we want in a good friend, colleague, or family member. The word mensch is almost onomatopoetic when used frequently enough that everyone gets it: be kind; be fair; be humorous; be helpful; do what’s right. Be a mensch.

Look in the mirror.

Sometimes, you just need to take a good look at yourself.  To get real and be as authentic as possible, you’ve got to have a strong sense of yourself. This self-awareness may require you to try to see yourself as others might see you.  To do this, you need to feel comfortable in your skin and understand your emotions.  This allows you to understand others more deeply.  People know authenticity when they see and feel it, so if you’re not feeling it, you’re projecting something else that others may see as disingenuous.

At Business Acumen Institute, we are focused on developing future-ready leaders with the business acumen needed to achieve greater levels of success.  Take advantage of our work tools and resources, such as the Business Acumen Canvas.

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