Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to create environments that foster productivity, innovation and growth. What if we took it one step further and also prioritized personal fulfillment? A workplace culture that promotes openness and transparency promotes employee satisfaction, which in turn promotes excellence and efficiency. As such, following this approach can take us well beyond 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 in order to be taken seriously, I had to mask my authentic self. So for years I taught myself to hide my feelings, personality and passions because I was led to believe that was the only way forward. Granted, it worked, but as I gained more experience and moved up the ranks, I realized that this culture was deeply flawed, no matter how (unfortunately) common it is.
Related: Authentic Leadership: What Is It And Why Is It Important?
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, enabling individuals to build relationships based on openness, honesty and being themselves, while actively integrating work and private life possible.
Work-life integration is based on the idea that work and life are not separate, but that professional responsibilities, family life, hobbies and personal development can be intertwined in a way that supports and improves our overall well-being. It suggests a holistic approach to managing work and life, blurring the boundaries between the two and focusing on creating satisfaction and balance in general.
This approach prioritizes the wellbeing of individuals, inspires them to embrace their true selves and creates a positive energy that encourages collaboration, innovation, creativity and productivity. In fact, it encourages employee loyalty and engagement, which benefits us, our businesses and our employees in the long run.
The bottom line is that employees who enjoy going to work wake up excited about their day and ultimately drive the company’s success.
With these ideas in mind, I have used principles of authentic leadership and work-life integration to create a culture where employees can be authentic without fear of judgment. I am proud to say that my team thrives under this approach, with proven increased engagement, job satisfaction and productivity.
This all sounds great in theory, but how does it actually work?
Related: 3 ways authentic leaders inspire and retain employees
How to create this kind 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 his employees while encouraging the reciprocity of these principles. Below are some tips on how you can do just that, with the goal of fostering a work culture similar to the one I created:
Lead by example: Model authenticity by being vulnerable and sharing your experiences/emotions with your team. By leading fairly and promoting transparency, you can create an environment where team members feel comfortable and empowered to share their own perspectives.
Create a safe space: Foster a culture where criticism is seen as an opportunity for growth by actively seeking feedback. Encourage open communication and encourage your team to be transparent and honest with each other, including you. Authenticity works both ways, meaning sometimes you get feedback you don’t want to hear; when that happens, put your ego aside and let it be “I’m the boss, they can’t talk to me like that!!” loose. mindset because it will not serve you and will only prevent your team from being transparent with you.
Offer growth opportunities: Invest in employee growth and development to show you value your team. Provide training, mentorship and career growth opportunities or a collection 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 through employee retention and satisfaction and creating a culture that values learning and innovation leading to success for the company as a whole.
Promote healthy work-life integration: Offer flexibility, remote work options and paid time off to avoid burnout. Accept, expect and adjust the reality of personal life as it is unavoidable. Don’t let employees waste time explaining personal commitments or excusing external factors during virtual meetings, but let them address them and go to work with renewed focus. Life goes on with or without stress, so choose “without” by normalizing work-life integration rather than 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 reinforce 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 has led to beautiful friendships that have stimulated both involvement and collaboration.
Related: CEO Survival Guide: Leading with Authenticity, Transparency, and Trust
While this approach can produce incredible results for businesses, there are also implications, such as the potential challenge of putting your personal feelings aside to remain professional and objective; this can be especially tricky if you have to make tough decisions involving your team.
To avoid being blindsided, it is essential to anticipate the potential impact of personal biases, prepare for them, and take steps to mitigate their impact. True authentic leaders make decisions based on objective analysis, acknowledging and remaining aware of their strengths and weaknesses, values and beliefs. They use these insights to guide rather than cloud decision making, enabling 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 foster an environment where both individuals and businesses can thrive in building a positive, supportive, and fulfilling workplace. After all, we spend a significant part of our lives at work, so why not spend it having fun?