While the phrase, “Behind every good man, there’s a good woman” is outdated and has prompted comeback phrases like, “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle;” the more accurate phrase these days, regardless of gender, is “Behind every good company, is an authentic leader.”
Leading authentically begins from the inside and ripples out in all directions, just like a pebble in a pond. This wave of authenticity, when experienced throughout all levels of an organization, inspires management and employee loyalty. They act in the best interest of the company, its customers, clients, and, in healthcare, its patients.
How can a leader embody and demonstrate authenticity? In other words, show genuine concern for the individuals they lead and be willing to expose their humanity without “faking it?”
- Adopt a mindset that employees are people first and not chess pieces to maneuver at will. While making judgments about others is a natural human behavior, when exercised unconsciously it can have a significant impact on employee morale and company outcomes. An executive vice-president in a healthcare system, who shifted her thinking, during a coaching session, from, “employees are just worker bees” to “they are people,” began listening to and implementing their ideas, resulting in a five percent increase in employee satisfaction and a ten percent increase in quality as measured by a reduction in errors.
- Lead with full awareness of their Ego and choose behaviors consistent with their authentic self. There are many stories in the news about CEOs or even physician leaders who openly acknowledge their mistakes and correct them immediately. The most famous was the 1982 Tylenol case, in which James Burke, A former Johnson & Johnson chairman made the decision to recall 31 million bottles of Tylenol capsules off the market; offered a replacement product in the safer tablet form free of charge, and did it publicly. It was predicted that the Tylenol brand (17 % of the company’s net income) would not recover but a year later its share of the market, which had plunged to 7 percent had climbed back up to 30%. Authentic leaders are not embarrassed by the error but empowered to take the risk to be vulnerable, in this case, on behalf of the consumer.
- Relate to the circumstances of the individuals they have the privilege of leading. Long before telecommuting became fashionable, and at a time when the economy was declining, an executive director of a billing department collaborated with employees to find ways to keep them employed rather than resort to the traditional way of cutting “human resources” to make a budget. The suggestion of allowing employees to work from home on non-critical jobs helped the employees during economically challenging times. This collaborative and out-of-the-box approach respected employees’ circumstances and resulted in stronger loyalty ties to the company.
In working with top leaders over the last ten years in the healthcare industry and training leaders to-be, again and again, elevating these three concepts has proven to be solid steps in strengthening companies. It is not so much a top-down approach as it is an inward, outward one; by revealing your own authenticity from within as a leader, you set those positive ripples in motion.