The importance of authenticity and its relevance in business during COVID-19 and beyond
Luke Johnson is a serial entrepreneur based in London. He articulates some fundamental competencies that set the benchmark of a great leader in his 2015 article “The anatomy of a true leader”; the ability to motivate, domain knowledge, the ability to listen, decisiveness, financial literacy, a sense of humor, reliability, frugality, delegation and adaptability.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses globally have been catastrophic. An unnatural state of tension ensues.
CEOs and Entrepreneurs must draw upon these competencies whilst carefully balancing a level of rigorous discipline required for a business turnaround.
In my view one trait missing from Johnson’s list is ensuring a key focus on people and culture. Embracing a People First mindset is often overlooked by many businesses.
COVID-19 however, is already demonstrating the necessity for senior leaders to proactively demonstrate a personal presence and an authentic interest in their people.
Reaping the benefits
To reap the benefits of taking an authentic interest in others is often challenging and will require consistency in what is rapidly becoming a virtual world.
Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager in British football. He quotes in his most recent book, Leading, “When conversing with others most people don’t use their eyes and ears effectively. They aren’t very observant, and they fail to listen intently. As a result, they miss half of what is going on around them”.
Leaders who demonstrate a genuine interest in their people, without being physically present, will create a systemic shift in relieving the anxiety of employees now and beyond COVID-19.
Your people will feel heard, understand their value and be more connected to the mission of your business. This will lead to something remarkable.
Listen to your front line
Archie Norman is the Chairman of Marks & Spencer, a former management consultant and famously known for his achievements with ASDA, the UK supermarket chain. The business was close to bankruptcy when he arrived as Chief Executive in 1991. Rumour has it he was the only applicant for the job.
At ASDA, Norman formed many of his ideas about reinventing the layout and makeup of stores, focusing on ‘everyday low prices’, and reinvigorating growth. Norman openly admits that this was fundamentally achieved by purposefully making time to talk widely with employees.
“Listen to the river. Listen to the frontline. If it is a retail company, wander around the stores. Talk to the people who run the stores. Talk to the checkout operators. Understand the DNA of the company and what, culturally, led it to be in a failed situation. Behind all financial failures is organisational failure.”
Norman’s leadership resulted positively and eight years later after a business turnaround, he had successfully orchestrated the sale of ASDA to the US supermarket giant Wal-Mart Stores for $6.7 billion, rewarding shareholders with an eightfold return.
Great outcomes for your business beyond COVID-19 will be determined by what your senior leaders do, more specifically, how they behave, interact & choose to prioritise their time.
What they do will be determined by their personal values, beliefs & levels of consciousness. Authenticity cannot be improvised.
Ask yourself as a leader, am I doing these things consistently? How much do I know about my people? Regardless of what you think, what would your employees say?
Taking an authentic interest in your people is no silver bullet but it will create something remarkable.
Remarkable will differentiate a good business versus a great business in its ability to bounce back in the unprecedented times that lay ahead and best of all, it won’t cost your CFO a cent.