More than any other business buzz words, authenticity and transparency arguably get the most air time, since they embody an entire philosophy about what the foundation for leadership ought to be. Yet, the number of leaders whose teams might use those words to describe them remains limited. This isn’t because leaders are unsure of how to build trust — there are thousands of articles and books on how to connect with others well. There are two other issues at play.
A one-sided mindset
The main problem that causes leaders to fumble and keep their guard up is the entire approach to business operations and efficiency. This involves a few core ideologies and personal executive beliefs that:
- More is always better.
- Being competitive requires you to be always “on,” 24/7.
- Communications always deserve an immediate response.
- You should always power through and never complain.
Individually, leaders might reject these concepts. But collectively, society clings to them pretty tightly. We can see this in statistics for overtime hours worked, checking email right when you wake up, and blindly prioritizing profits above everything else.
Because of the way operations are set up around these biases, leaders often don’t get opportunities to explore authenticity and transparency the way they otherwise might. For instance, if you notice that an employee seems upset in a meeting but then one of you must immediately leave for another, you might not be able to take a moment to check-in and see what the issue is or how you can help. And in the same way, you might commit to taking a conference call with someone halfway around the world in the middle of the night, rather than admitting you’ll be exhausted, simply because you want to give the impression of cooperation and get some security for the business you’ve put everything into.
A lack of unified purpose
Despite the fact that therapists and business communication specialists everywhere stress “I” language and the acknowledgment of emotion, many leaders have not worked in environments where this is the norm. Others also have family backgrounds where this kind of communication was more taboo. The focus can be so concentrated around hyper-results and goals that it’s almost impossible to stay present enough in the moment to tune into, identify, and discuss feelings with full self-awareness. So while leaders might cognitively understand that it works, they can have a hard time breaking with tradition and actually practicing it, which makes it harder for everyone on their team to reciprocate and normalize the behavior. Even as we say that people should be themselves, we often don’t really show them how or give them the tools or set up to do it well. Subsequently, the call for authenticity and transparency becomes hollow.
Solving the authenticity and transparency problem thus is not a simple affair. It will take a widespread, cross-industry mindset shift toward the prioritization of a slower, more mindful way of working. That might not come unless leaders get even more uncomfortable and suffer greater economic and career consequences for the inability to be truly real and connected. Once that shift happens, however, leaders will be in a much better position to build entirely new work systems that actually allow them to apply the trust-building tips and tricks they’ve already heard about.
This is where a unified purpose is paramount.
If one can remove all disagreements with regards to the purpose of what is being done and then absorb that purpose themselves, they immediately develop a greater alignment with the company and those around them — with an exponential, positive ripple effect that can yield powerful results.