Authentic leadership in a fake world

Gary Ashworth

Following on from his last article about the benefits of failure, in his exclusive column for Business Leader, Gary Ashworth talks about leadership in the digital world.

In the digital world we live in, where everything can be easily altered, from manipulated digital photos and media filtered biographies, to world leaders re-writing history and changing laws to suit themselves, how do you head up a team and demonstrate authentic leadership when suspicion has become the default state? The world has moved on from the time when we just used lipstick and Spanx.

The answer is to focus on both Culture and Communication.

The great thing about leading people, whether there are three of them or 1,003, is that it’s in our gift to create the culture they work in, and when we get it right, we find that stuff just gets done faster and goals are achieved more easily.

Once people realise that there’s positive intent, care, and guidance, filtering down from the top, then people will feel safe and supported, plus it’ll be an environment where team members will want to strive and grow.

Decide to create an environment where it’s safe to speak out and ideas are challenged or criticised. (Make sure you can take it yourself before you dish it out). I don’t mean go overboard and encourage a ruthless workplace where people are openly stabbed in the front, but one where candour is always encouraged, because people know it leads to improving the model. Create a safety net so that colleagues aren’t punished for making mistakes if new ideas or experiments don’t work out.

Collaborative arguing builds pressure and leads to better businesses. Make sure everyone has a written development plan with three or four issues listed, that individuals are striving to improve. Listen to your people naively with an intent to understand, not to direct or control. Do genuinely care about every individual’s motivation – switch off your mobile phone and look people in the face. Encourage social events from time to time, where people get to know each other better and have fun. Reward the superstars and replace the weaker members of the crew. Keep improving the team.

Once this culture is understood by everyone and embedded “in the muscle” then the real magic can start!

At this juncture, you can be much more frank with the nature of your communication. Deliberately make it honest, direct, unfiltered and instant. Don’t sugar-coat anything. Don’t over-complicate things. You can get away with bluntness if you’re consistent with your feedback and everyone knows you mean well. Forget the manipulative empathy or aggression we’ve all seen or experienced in the past from bad managers. Get into the habit of saying what you mean in a direct way. Treat everyone the same. If you’re a male leader, don’t go easy on women because you think they’re more sensitive and if you’re a female leader, don’t worry about being too aggressive. Whoever you are, try not to use gendered language like I did at the beginning of the article, and make sure you regularly walk in the shoes of the other gender, and look at the world through their lens.

Mastering Culture and Communication will lead to the outcomes you want, without having to tell people what to do, except occasionally, when you have to tell them what to do!

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