Authentic Leaders Drive Higher Engagement


Dr. Shelton Goode, DPA

Members of inclusive teams demonstrate transparency and authenticity. This level of teamwork requires team members to make themselves vulnerable to one another without fear that their vulnerabilities — weaknesses, skill deficiencies, mistakes, requests for help — will be used against them.

To cultivate an inclusive team, the agile leader must him/herself demonstrate authenticity and transparency and create an environment that does not retaliate against vulnerabilities.

Getting Started 

To become a more authentic leader, try beginning your next team meeting by sharing a personal story about yourself. If you are uncomfortable sharing this information, you are probably in the right neighborhood.

After you have role modeled being transparent, share with the team how it made you feel to make yourself vulnerable. Next, you can follow this up by asking each team member to share something about their childhood — their favorite childhood vacation, most memorable moment, a dream of becoming something that did not materialize, etc.

The conversation will create an energy that fuels awareness and interdependence within the team. Ask team members for suggestions on how to build on that interdependence.

In my book, Diversity Managers: Angels of Mercy or Barbarians at the Gate, I discuss a growing body of research which suggests that the most effective way to influence and lead a diverse team is to begin with authenticity and transparency.

The combination of these two leadership traits is proving to be the conduit of influence and appears to facilitate trust and the communication and absorption of ideas among team members.

Small things, such as storytelling, send the message that you’re comfortable in your leadership ability and are focused on team success.

Making authenticity a priority helps you connect with those on the team, and demonstrates that you hear, understand and can be trusted by them. Maya Angelou understood the power of authenticity and transparency and reminds us that, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Use Mistakes to Connect

Over time, I have come to realize that part of my success due to fact that I made mistakes! The key is what you do when you make a mistake.

Authenticity means that while we declare our strengths to others, we also remain aware of our weaknesses and acknowledge them to self and others. This has helped me realize that a lot of how I handle my mistakes when in front of my team actually helps them to feel closer to me, and therefore pay more attention to what I am saying.

Leaders often feel compelled to be so prepared, and so polished that it becomes more about ‘the leader’s presence’ than the team’s understanding. For example, when I’m speaking to my team in a staff meeting and I lose my train of thought, rather than just rolling through and playing it off, I use it as a point people can relate too — “a Shelton senior moment”.

Using humor to showcase a moment of weakness helps create a more inclusive and engaging environment where others also do not fear being vulnerable.

So put yourself out there and do not be afraid to be authentic and transparent. Both characteristics demonstrate that you are vulnerable. By making yourself to be more ‘human’, you help develop trusts among those that you lead.

Being an authentic individual enhances the development of teamwork, inclusion, and productivity. In other words, don’t be afraid to be yourself!