Few days ago some colleagues asked me which one of the Guiding Principles that VF has chosen is more important for me. I think it’s difficult to pick between a set of core values that all relate to what I believe “good business” should be about.
Live with integrity resonates a lot to me, also because a big part of my personal and professional journey has been marked by strong internal (and sometime openly external) conversation about the meaning itself of what Integrity means.
Let’s cut it short. For me Integrity is not about simply respecting the rules. Since the beginning of my career, all the managers I’ve had understood that I’ve always been a “challenger” of status quo rules. The question is, of course, which rules you can or cannot challenge. And to make sure these challenges are not just an attempt to build anarchy, but more a way to improve working conditions, productivity or other inefficiencies.
This is why I believe that Integrity needs to be linked to another essential trait: Authenticity.
Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.
Being authentic guarantees building a system of consistencies around your values and beliefs, and a way of portraying them to your team, your peers, your supervisors. Which is why it is so strongly linked with Leadership. People that are not able to express authenticity in what they do, will fail to develop strong leadership skills in the long term, because there is always the risk to be caught off guard.
Issue is that developing authenticity is not easy. In many ways many cultural elements as well as consumerism, tend to guide us more on building alternative facades or masks versus expressing our authentic selves.
To be fair, I believe that a small portion of “buildups” in terms of our personalities it’s not only normal, but somehow desirable. Provided it doesn’t alter your personal values up to the point of creating falsehoods. I spent most of my time as adolescent in trying to demonstrate to be “older” and “wiser” than my age. But that has pushed me to develop myself, even if somehow for a period of my life I was not necessarily exposing my most authentic self.
A question that I often had to confront is if authenticity is about displaying your weaknesses. I think also here we need to be clear: I always believe there needs to be a separation between what is needed at work and what instead is your broader personality. Of course the first needs to be aligned to the latter. But you don’t necessary have to take everything with you. Authenticity is not just being emotional, for example.
Authenticity is about presence, living in the moment with conviction and confidence and staying true to yourself. An authentic person puts the people around them at ease, like a comforting, old friend who welcomes us in and makes us feel at home.
After all it’s about being “real”. To yourself, as a start. To others, as a consequence. Developing a strong connection with everybody that encircles you. And as a matter of fact one of the key components to develop real Authenticity is to treat others always with Kindness and Respect. This is the key that will allow you to really develop a strong authentic mindset, that will create positive impact on all your relationships.
Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
You may live by a code of values and morals that remain constant, but when it comes to opinions, people and events, you always need to be open to listening. Authenticity asks that we judge free of bias.
All of the above will help you expand your circle of influence. Because Authentic people share another key attribute: their open-mindedness (built on Trust on others) that allows to constantly seek new value creation patterns. Every authentic person is someone that is open to new ideas.
The key to true Leadership.
In my work in Retail and stores, I have been able to observe a lot of cases where a Store Manager did make a difference not just in terms of business results, but in terms of team success. All these people shared a strong level of Authentic Leadership. A trait connection that has been researched a lot.
One of the key trait of being Authentic is to reject the idea that everybody needs to like you. “Most people are walking the tightrope between their need to express their own identity, and their need to fit in”. When you don’t need to be liked or loved by everyone, it frees you up to be your True Self.
If a leader is playing a role that isn’t a true expression of his authentic self, followers will sooner or later feel like they’ve been tricked.
This is the key: being an Authentic Leader is the best antidote against missed expectations by others.
Which means you will be able to become the drop of water that creates the ripple-effect of positive energy in your team and organisation.
Being yourself. Always.