Working for the best

Over the years I have been fortunate to work with CEOs who embody authenticity and humility in how they lead their organisation and their people.

Business is a dynamic place for a CEO, with markets constantly evolving and stakeholders from investors, customers and Prime Ministers ready to draw their pound of flesh. The share price doesn’t always rise, the campaign is not always won, and the profit results are not always up.

And, while often at the centre of the storm, these leaders rarely showed stress or worry. If they ever lost sleep, it was because they were worried not about themselves or their own ambitions, but instead their nightly dreams were interrupted by their concern for the wellbeing of their people. They truly believed in caring for their people and were pivotal in ensuring safety standards prevented injury of any kind.

Blending authenticity and humility created leaders who understood their position wasn’t about wielding power, but about serving their organisation with integrity and a willingness to learn. Leadership for some reason wasn’t about them.

These leaders made decisions, it was their job after all. But they recognised that their wisdom wasn’t exhaustive and they sought out the input from those around them, regardless of their seniority, their role, or their background. The effect was to dismantle hierarchies and encourage the best ideas to take centre stage.

The opposite approach is seen in the creation of processes that prevent access to leaders, and environments and cultures that block information flows and stifle creativity. Can I speak more plainly … the opposite is the creation of ivory towers, and of corner offices.

Authenticity and humility combined are a unique force. But instead of projecting power I’ve instead observed leaders with these traits to be open about their vulnerability. They talk unreservedly about their mistakes, their limitations and their search for knowledge. In this environment, it feels easier to fail. And as I’ve tried desperately to convince my three boys of late, you need to lose in order to understand how to win.

Authenticity drives action from leaders rather than promotion. In a world where some companies are interpreting ESG performance to mean the promotion of the good things you do, authentic leaders are changing policies and letting actions speak for themselves. They are changing their parental leave policies, there are reducing their impact on the environment, and they are making sure their supply chains are not engaged in slavery. ESG is not a promotional exercise in securing support from the outside world, it is an authentic approach to delivering better outcomes.

Authenticity and humility in leadership are not buzzwords. They are real approaches. They are often formed by the adoption of great values at home or in the community, and they are quite simply creating the best workplaces and companies to work for that you will ever experience.

If you ever have the chance to work for or with these types of leaders, or with companies where these traits are embodied in the culture … don’t give up the chance for anything.