Leading with authenticity​

A human hand writing using a pen

Last time, Amy Bach took a look at how passion is one of the key ingredients for true leadership. Today, she discusses the importance of authentic leadership.

As a woman in leadership, I have experienced, and am continuing to learn, the impact of leading authentically. I strongly abide by the phrase, “what you permit, you promote.” Reward people for solution-focused, collaborative behaviour and we promote a culture of teamwork and positivity. Permit them to display incivility towards others, close off communication channels, or not display accountability for their own actions, and we risk the development of a negative culture that can quickly turn toxic. The concept of credibility in a leader includes modelling the behaviour we wish to see in others. Am I asking my staff to leave work at a reasonable hour and take their breaks so they do not burn out? Admit when they have made a mistake and learn from it? Take a genuine interest in their colleagues’ lives? Show that they are reliable adults who can turn up to meetings on time? Then I need to firstly check in and see that I am demonstrating those behaviours myself. This begins the process of shaping the values and culture of a team ‘for real’ rather than ‘for show’. 

This brings me to one of the most quoted lines from a truly authentic female leader, that brilliant and poignant moment when Madeleine Albright (former United States Secretary of State) declared that, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other.” Too often I have seen intelligent, reasonable women receive backlash in meetings for simply speaking assertively, often being (incorrectly) labelled as forceful or aggressive. I believe that one of the most defining features of a female leader is her choice about whether to act in a way that supports and elevates other women in the workplace, which includes having the courage to ‘call it out’ rather than stay silent. We need to work together to re-write the narrative: a woman can be warm and engaging at the same time as being strong, competent and assertive. We should also be on the lookout for opportunities to support and develop other women. In my own experience, this has included directly supporting other women to succeed or voice an opinion at work and also making a conscious decision to provide equal opportunities to both men and women when openings for advancement arise. Moreover, I am involved as a volunteer mentor with mentoring programs such as those run by Fitted For Work (an Australian not-for-profit helping women experiencing disadvantage to get and keep work). 

I recently had an opportunity to make a choice about whether to stay silent or speak up. This was through involvement with a syndicate assignment as part of my business management studies. I noticed that while many of the groups had equal numbers of females and males, the majority had nonetheless selected two males as the representatives for the presentation component in the final class. I knew from talking to my classmates that, for at least one group, the women had done more of the preparatory work but said that they handed it over to the men because they lacked confidence when it came to presenting the work. This provided a natural talking point with the members of my group and, when I brought it to their attention, the majority admitted that they had not even noticed this! We committed as a group to ensuring equal representation for our presentation. These small choices to speak up rather than stay silent can bring to our awareness the subconscious bias that is present in all humans (often in far stronger forms than we would ever expect or realise), and prevent women from being our own worst enemies when it comes to putting our best collective foot forward (a red Italian-made high heel, obviously!).

A gem I have discovered through my commitment to lead with authenticity is the value of a handwritten note. Something I experienced growing up, with parents who really valued small acts of positive affirmation, is the joy that can be elicited through a handwritten note of appreciation or encouragement. In my experience, this cannot be fully replicated verbally or via email. Yet, all too often we either convince ourselves that we are too busy for more than a brief email to someone or, worse still, we get caught up in our busy lives and forget to say anything. It is so rare these days to receive a card just because, so when I recently received a thank you card from my current manager (a truly supportive, strong and authentic female leader), I found myself continuing to reflect for several days afterwards on how much I appreciated the time she had taken to choose and buy the card, write in it and deliver it to me. The more powerful aspect of this gesture, however, is that I have since read the words in that card three times over. I cannot think of many emails I would take the time to read three times! So, go and buy a pack of thank you cards, take the two minutes to write a line of acknowledgement to someone, and observe the profound impact that this small act of appreciation can have on someone’s day.

Join Amy next time for a look at how leaders can boost their resilience and courage to achieve their goals and strengthen their teams.

Amy Bach is the manager of a department of allied health professionals within a large private healthcare group in Melbourne, Victoria. A physiotherapist by background, she has extensive experience in both clinical and senior management roles in the healthcare system in Australia and the UK and is currently completing an MBA at Melbourne Business School. Amy is passionate about making a positive impact in a workplace, shaping team culture and staff engagement, and helping to facilitate and empower women to achieve senior leadership positions. She has presented at a number of healthcare conferences on the topic of leadership and staff engagement.

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