Being Authentic Earns Trust

RBLP Staff – Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series

Being Authentic Earns Trust RBLP Staff - Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series

Leaders who earn the trust of their teams are far and away the most effective at achieving the financial and human goals of the workplace. But trust has to be proactively earned.

People are naturally skeptical of a new leader. One way to overcome that skepticism is by being authentic. Your team will give you their trust if you trust them to accept who you really are and that you have their best interests at heart.

Newly minted leaders are often told by “experts” and other managers that they must somehow rise to this esteemed occasion and become someone new: more decisive, more authoritative, aloof, and less emotional. They may be told not to get “too close” to the team, that they now breathe a more rarefied atmosphere than those who report to them. “Never let them see you sweat” is another well-intended bit of advice often delivered to the new boss.

In other words, they need to change who they are, to alter the very characteristics that led to their promotion. 

But those who attempt to follow this advice may find their direct reports seem not to trust them. Why? Because their authentic selves have been sacrificed in the process. A fake person has emerged as the new leader. The team can smell it. 

Why is preserving your authentic self so important? Trust is essential to effectively leading a team, and countless studies have found that authenticity is a key characteristic among leaders whose teams trust them. Without authenticity, trust may never be established. 

You do not have to sacrifice pieces of your better self to be effective. Human qualities are universally valued by those in the workplace, and they are drawn to leaders who exhibit them. You are who you were before you became the leader. You want to elevate your managerial skills. But you never want to be anyone but your authentic self. 

The “fake self” syndrome is most apparent in employees promoted to a leadership role in their current workplace. The congenial former peer is reinvented as an aloof, demanding boss. Gone are the break room chats and casual sense of humor. There’s no time to grab lunch–unless it’s to lecture an underling–or share vacation stories. The change in personality is alarming to one’s former colleagues, leaving them wondering, who is this new version of their old friend?    

Authentic leaders are self-aware and aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They admit a mistake (we all make them), allow true emotions to be shown in front of others, and ask for help when they need it. They never build a protective wall around themselves. Authentic leaders can say the words, “I was wrong.” “I am sorry.” “I’m feeling bad about what happened today.” People respond to such disclosures. Why? Because it then gives them the right to be authentic in their work. 

When someone moves into a leadership position, whether from within the ranks or outside, they are sure to be tested. Some direct reports will be outspoken in their feedback. But the majority will wait and watch, to see whether the new boss has that ring of authenticity.   

True leaders will welcome this evaluation, secure in the belief that their genuine, authentic self is up to the job of building trust and creating an effective team.