The importance of authenticity as a leader
As we continue to see droves of people re-evaluating their careers, prioritizing their needs and goals over those of the corporate machine, it is important to not underestimate the role that company leadership plays in this turning of the tides. We are certainly moving away from the culture of hierarchy and corner offices; the post COVID employee demands an equal seat at the table and is increasingly unwilling to settle for inflexible and outdated working environments. This does not just refer to desiring a better work/life balance or adaptable schedules and hybrid working options, but it also refers to the types of leaders that qualified employees will work for.
The entrepreneur vs. the silver spoon
The spirit of innovation and independence are values that have long been admired in business. We are inspired by those who are willing to "risk it all" to bet on their ideas and dreams, a trait that very few possess. However, what is often overlooked as we as a society put these inventive leaders on pedestals, is just how risky their business endeavors actually are. If we look a bit deeper under the surface of some of our most admired entrepreneurs of the last century, we will oftentimes find that they beginnings are not quite as modest as we think. We like to see the potential in ourselves in these icons of industry; it gives us the hope that we too could become self made men and women. While I would never look to disway a truly independent and ambitious soul, I do find it crucially important that we evaluate who we chose to elevate and model ourselves after in business. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs did not start from the meager or humble beginnings that the majority of society can relate to. As you peel the layers of the onion back, you will oftentimes find that the level of risk some leaders have taken is actually not very risky at all. On the surface it seems quite bold to leave one's stable and secure job to "start from scratch" to build one's dream; however, the shimmer diminishes substantially when the abundance of the risk is removed, through significant financial backing of family, well established connections in industry or other means not commonly available to most. Is it truly a risk if there really is nothing to lose?
Be the boss you would want to work for
So, does this mean that the innovator who truly came from nothing to build success is more admirable than the one who used his status and connections to gain success? Surely not; however, it is critically important that the culture that the "entitled" leader builds for their business does not morph into one of a rigid aristocracy. The most dangerous and toxic environment that one can build is where there is a clear delineation of the "haves" and "have nots" within the company; the worker bees vs. the executives. A company culture that feels more like a Downton Abbey division of classes and less like a professional, collaborative, and welcoming environment is one that will ultimately morph into undervalued employees, increased turnover, decreased productivity and an inability to attract and retain top talent.
So my question for all leaders out there is to truly evaluate how you lead and the values you exude? Do you celebrate company successes throughout all levels of the organization or is for senior leaders only? Do you truly care about those you employee, regardless of their level? Or is it all about the bottom line? What actions do you take to understand the concerns and struggles of those who earn the least within your organization? Taking a good hard look at how you convey value from the bottom to the top of your organization is a critical attribute of being a good leader. While you cannot be expected to fully understand the personal situations of all employees, it is your responsibility as a leader to cultivate an environment of inclusivity. Be the boss you would want to work for. Build a company not of entitlement and hierarchy, but one that truly values their staff - not in words, but in actions.