Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Empathy: Leadership Essentials

By Guest Blogger and Delta Concepts Consulting Facilitator, Monica McCoy




Work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment. In fact, 90% of the world’s workers feel disengaged or unhappy at work, according to a Gallup poll that surveyed 230,000 full-time and part-time employees in 142 countries. Those numbers are alarming! How did we get here?

For a long time, men and women climbed the corporate ladder believing that to achieve success, they had to put on their best face, manipulate and walk over others, and never, ever, make a mistake. Sadly, this belief led to many organizations creating a culture of exclusion, with the vast majority of employees feeling unsatisfied and becoming actively disengaged.

Disengaged employees are not merely just unhappy at work; they act out of their unhappiness, often undermining the productivity of engaged employees. They kill morale and have a negative impact on customers by providing bad customer experiences. This drains a company’s bottom line.

Large corporations and startups alike should be asking themselves, what can management do to transform disengaged employees into engaged employees and move their businesses forward?

How Companies Can Engage Employees

While many organizations have come to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion, there is still a disconnection that is a drain on resources. Innovative businesses like Google and Facebook, which continue to grow, understand that diversity is nice, but inclusion is even better. However, there are additional forces that must be at the core of a company’s culture for employees to feel engaged and want to give their best. They have created a culture where their employees are not afraid of making mistakes. They don’t encourage selfishness. They don’t instill a fear of making a mistake at work.

The surprising forces that move businesses forward are empathy, vulnerability, and authenticity.

Empathy is the ability to connect with and relate to others. In the workplace, it creates an environment that encourages employees to share ideas free from the fear of rejection or ridicule. When employees feel comfortable sharing, ideas flourish, driving innovation and results. Free from the classic idea box or sporadic, unproductive brainstorm meetings, employees can be vulnerable and authentic when an environment of empathy is engrained in the culture.

Cultural Change Starts with Leadership

This doesn’t happen easily or overnight.

It starts where every other significant shift in an organization must start: At the top. Managers and executives must show vulnerability in order for their employees to feel safe being vulnerable. They must be willing to admit their mistakes and promote the idea that no one is perfect. Experimentation must be welcome.

This type of environment also encourages authenticity in the workplace. When people feel comfortable making suggestions and bringing up ideas, they become more likely to voice their true opinions. They feel valued. Valued employees add value to their companies.

How to Cultivate Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Empathy

Cultures aren’t created by management alone. Employees must show up and actively participate to create an environment where empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability are standard.

Here are three key strategies you can take to promote and excel in this sort of environment:

  1. Be a proactive communicator. Keep your team in the loop. Proactive communicators don’t wait until smoke hits the fan. They report their progress and any setbacks so that there is plenty of time for people to either relax or move on to plan B. Proactive communicators never hide mistakes and don’t make excuses. This communication style builds trust, which is key to produce an empathetic and authentic culture.
  2. Engage in deeper conversations with colleagues. Getting to know a person outside of a business meeting helps you understand who they are and why they make the decisions they make. This knowledge will naturally help you become more empathetic to their beliefs and build a stronger, more resilient relationship. Strong relationships in the workplace make it easier for people to be vulnerable and authentic.
  3. Don’t wait for people to ask for help. When you notice a need, act on it. Being proactive, dependable, and available when help is needed makes other people feel they can be vulnerable around you and trust you.

These three strategies can help create trust amongst colleagues and encourage an empathetic, authentic, and vulnerable workplace.

Every organization wants to be the leader in its prospective industry. Managers and executives want to be known for getting results. With a culture that encourages empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability, managers can lower the number of disengaged employees and efficiently move the business forward.

What steps have your organization taken to promote empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability in the workforce? How are these effects measured?

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