For three years, the Harvard Business Review did research into the relationship between authenticity and effective leadership. ‘Simply put, people will not follow a leader they feel is inauthentic. But the executives they questioned made it clear that to be authentic, they needed to work for an authentic organisation’.

Through this research, HBR have cultivated a concept of The Organization of Your Dreams. ‘In a nutshell, it’s a company where individual differences are nurtured; information is not suppressed or spun; the company adds value to employees, rather than merely extracting it from them; the organisation stands for something meaningful; the work itself is intrinsically rewarding; and there are no stupid rules’.

It is ok to be loud and proud.

It is ok to be quiet and reserved.

It is ok to be who you are at work.

These are the things I wanted my team to feel when they walked in the door each day. I wanted to realign and refocus my crew and go a bit deeper than just having the traditional strategic offsite goal setting session with sad catering and peculiar trust building activities. I needed my team to see their true authentic selves, so I enlisted an old friend and connection specialist, Graeme Cowan to facilitate something that changed the spirit of EMG irrevocably.

Most people today leave themselves at the door when they enter the work environment, not bringing their true self for fear of judgement, societal pressures and conformity.

Expressed in terms of a percentage of your life: if you spend 39.2 hours a week spent working, you spend 23.3% of your total time during the course of a 50 year working-life period. So, when considered in these terms, it seems unfathomable that a person couldn’t be their true, authentic self whilst at ‘work’. What negative impact can that have on mental and emotional wellbeing?

These are the issues that led Graeme to start R U OK? Day.

Perception. You might perceive people to be a certain personality type, but not see who they truly are. Undertaking the Gallup Strength assessment enabled everyone at EMG Events to understand their energisers – the things that light them up and make them jump out of bed in the morning – as well as their five positive strengths personally yielded from a series of reflection questions like: “What are some of the happiest moments you can recall as a child?” 

The next phase of discovering the results, was magnificent to watch. The faces of my team when they recognised that it was ok to just be themselves and be celebrated for their individual unique personalities and strengths was awesome. From this point in the journey we were enabled to discuss together what these strengths looked like when woven together into a team.

As Graeme states: “I help people to build their resilience, mood, and performance by being their true self”.

When a sporting team wants to win the game, they bring their key players with key strengths to the field, to play their unique position because that is what they are good at. The same thing applies in business. If you want to win a pitch, then bring your key players along with their unique talents to make that happen.

For me, we have now identified these skills and are applying this in the sense of approaching pitches differently. Normally, I would open a pitch and explain who EMG was and jump straight into unpacking the creative concepts. Following that I introduce the rest of the team present at the meeting. Now after the process with Graeme, we realised that we needed to identify who we are talking to more clearly as the first step. The second step was understanding who the client would prefer to hear from within our team to connect with them according to who they are. This is critical, and a process which makes our pitch attempt more successful, relevant and increases our chances of winning. We wanted the right person presenting content that is in line with who they really are.

To use a recent example, the team were pitching on a global pharmaceutical project and with this new approach in mind, tailored the presentation of the proposal to the skillset of the individual presenting. In the introduction to EMG Events, our beliefs and our philosophy was delivered by our client manager whose skillset is around connection, relationships and communication. Followed by one of the team who is passionately fluent in logistics and analysis, and for this client, they needed to hear the: “we have considered, thought, identified, researched, filtered and prepared this which perfectly fits what you need from an event”. At this point, it is my turn to speak and explain how we will bring the vision together, the creative concepts and how they strategically connect to their business.

The outcome of this approach… we won the work. Not only because the client could see we were authentic in who we were, but also because they could see exactly what our talents truly were – a move, which for us, directly impacted the bottom line of the company.

Imagine going into a pitch without the element of fear? Without the second guessing and paralysis of doubt? From this journey with Graeme, our team now go into a pitch feeling confident about their abilities in alignment with our core strengths as a company. This is immeasurably important to me and can be a game changer for them.

As a leader and mentor, it is imperative that my people feel heard, valued and recognised for what they bring to the conversation. It makes my life easier and allows me to take a step back, because the team value who they are and what they are good at. They can operate in an environment where they bring their best, because they are allowed to – truly.

When people believe they are truly good at something, they can get into the flow of the work without the shadow of doubt. This yields enormous enjoyment. Imagine also truly understanding those people around you in your team – how they think, process information and react? A process driven, analytical person is going to respond and problem solve differently to an emotional, creative person. I can tell you there is now less bullshit, perception and assumption and more understanding of who everyone is and how they naturally think. The result? A greater outcome for all.

The thing I’ve learnt from this process is you can’t just do it once and think ‘Yeah that was amazing, everyone’s on-board, lets go change the world!’. You need triggers to bring the team back to the purpose and allow them to be reminded of the value, only by doing this is transformation successful.

To achieve ‘good to great’ takes nurture, time and support but it all starts with a line in the sand allowing your people to be their true, genuine, naturally fabulous and authentic selves when they step into the workplace.

Steve Jobs always has interesting things to say around authenticity and success, enjoy: