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As leaders, it’s our responsibility to create environments that promote productivity, innovation and growth. What if we were to take this a step further and prioritize personal fulfillment as well? A workplace culture that promotes openness and transparency encourages employee satisfaction, which in turn fosters excellence and efficiency. As such, following this approach can take us much further than the traditional mindset.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I faced significant challenges early in my career, with people often dismissing my opinions, actions and decisions as emotional or irrational. I learned that to be taken seriously, I had to mask my authentic self. So, I spent years teaching myself to hide my feelings, personality and passions, as I was made to believe this was the only way to get ahead. Granted, it worked, but as I gained more experience and moved up the ranks, I realized this culture was deeply flawed, regardless of how (unfortunately) common it is.
The key to building a thriving workplace
With experience, I came to realize that the key to building a thriving workplace is authenticity: an approach rooted in trust, allowing individuals to build relationships based on openness, honesty and being their true selves while actively enabling work-life integration.
Work-life integration is based on the idea that work and life aren’t separate, but rather, that professional responsibilities, family life, hobbies and personal development can be interwoven in a way that supports and enhances our overall well-being. It suggests a holistic approach to managing work and life, where the boundaries between the two are blurred, and the focus is on creating fulfillment and balance overall.
This approach prioritizes the well-being of individuals, inspiring them to embrace their true selves and creating a positive energy that drives collaboration, innovation, creativity and productivity. Even more so, it encourages loyalty and commitment among employees, which benefits us, our companies and our employees in the long run.
The bottom line is simple: Employees who love going to work wake up feeling excited about their day and ultimately, as a result, drive success for the business.
With these ideas in mind, I used principles of authentic leadership and work-life integration to create a culture that allows employees to be authentic without fear of judgment. I’m proud to say that my team has thrived under this approach, with proven increased engagement, job satisfaction and productivity.
This all sounds great in theory, but how does it actually work?
How to create this type of culture
To bring this approach to life, you have to start with yourself. Authentic leadership is based on a leader’s ability to be honest, transparent and real with their employees while encouraging the reciprocation of these principles. Below are some tips on how you can do just that, with the goal of fostering a workplace culture similar to the one I’ve created:
Lead by example: Model authenticity by being vulnerable and sharing your experiences/emotions with your team. By leading with honesty and promoting transparency, you can create an environment where team members feel comfortable and are empowered to share their own perspectives.
Create a safe space: Encourage a culture where critique is seen as an opportunity for growth by actively seeking feedback. Foster open communication and encourage your team to be transparent and honest with one another, including you. Authenticity goes both ways, meaning you’ll sometimes receive feedback you don’t want to hear; when that happens, put your ego aside and let go of the “I’m the boss, they can’t talk to me that way!!” mentality as it won’t serve you and will only deter your team from being transparent with you.
Provide growth opportunities: Invest in employee growth and development to show that you value your team. Provide training, mentorship and career growth opportunities or a pool of learning resources (i.e., online learning platforms). Don’t skimp on the time spent on learning and development, as this investment will pay off in improved employee retention and satisfaction while creating a culture that values learning and innovation, driving success for the company as a whole.
Foster a healthy work-life integration: Offer flexibility, remote work options and paid time off to avoid burnout. Accept, expect and accommodate the realities of personal life as they are inevitable. Don’t make employees waste time explaining personal commitments or apologizing for external factors during virtual meetings, rather allow them to address them and return to work with renewed focus. Life will go on, with or without the stress, so choose “without” by normalizing work-life integration instead of encouraging worry or fear of judgment when personal life overlaps with work.
Build authentic relationships: If this doesn’t come naturally to you, actively invest in your relationships with your team members by engaging in conversations that strengthen your interest in their lives and well-being to develop trust, respect and empathy. Recognize that your team is your greatest asset, and create a culture where they can feel cared for. Within my team, this approach resulted in great friendships forming, boosting both engagement and collaboration.
While this approach can bring about incredible outcomes for businesses, it doesn’t come without implications, such as the possible challenge of putting your personal feelings aside to remain professional and objective; this can be especially tricky when you’re faced with making tough decisions involving your team.
To avoid being blindsided, it’s essential to anticipate the potential impact of personal biases, prepare for them and take steps to reduce their impact. True authentic leaders make decisions based on objective analysis, recognizing and remaining aware of their strengths, weaknesses, values and beliefs. They use these insights to guide decision-making rather than cloud it, allowing them to make more thoughtful and effective decisions than they would otherwise.
By leveraging both the benefits and implications of the authentic leadership approach, you can promote an environment where both individuals and companies can thrive in building a positive, supportive and fulfilling workplace. After all, we spend a significant portion of our lives at work, so why not spend it happily?