Living authentically — whether you are an employee, entrepreneur, corporate or political leader — is the be-all and end-all for strengthening your self-confidence, gaining true competitive advantage, and moving the hearts of your employees. Authentic people act in accord with their preferences and needs as opposed to acting merely to receive rewards or avoid punishment through playing a role. Authentic people dedicate their lives to a (greater) purpose that is in sync with their core values and beliefs. To put it very simply: Integrity means to do what you say, but authenticity means to be who you are and to do and say what you feel — while simultaneously respecting the unique individuality of others.
As a manager I noticed early that true leaders must not only be authentic so as to gain credibility but are also obliged to instill the art of authenticity in their employees. I underwent the first acid test for applying this lesson when I was only 29. My boss had just died in an airplane crash and I was supposed to assume the overall responsibility for managing a multi-billion-dollar hydro power project. The biggest challenge to me at this time was the recruitment of dozens of experienced engineers. Furthermore, I desperately needed a seasoned chief designer. After receiving many promising applications, I decided to award the vacant position to a former teacher. Although he had some basic qualifications as a technician, he lacked both experience and deep technical understanding. However, I valued his personality, his honest expression, and in particular his authentic passion for wanting to be a part of a great team building a gigantic project much higher than any technical expertise. I felt that this guy was deeply connected to and driven by a higher purpose, which impressed me tremendously. Did my client think I was nuts when I hired a teacher? You bet. However, only one year later the “teacher” became one of the most valuable staff members and is today a highly coveted hydro expert in the industry.
Since then I have hired hundreds of “teachers” by following my inner authentic voice rather than obeying conventional management rules. As a consequence, I built teams of hungry people who dare to be themselves so as to emerge as great leadership personalities instrumental in forming outstanding companies and delivering innovative solutions. People are the biggest asset, but authentic people are the biggest treasure, and hold the key to yielding a true competitive advantage. Here are some personal lessons for breaking the rules so as to find and foster your biggest treasure:
Recruit without involving the human resources department. When it comes to the first and even second job interview with a potential candidate, I never involve HR managers. They often act purely from their minds — based on rules, standards, and checklists — and not from their hearts, which does not allow them to drill down to the core of the candidates’ personalities. Companies look for unique candidates so it takes the leaders’ uniqueness — driven by purpose, vision, and mission — to lure the best people.
Dare to look first at the personality, then at the CV. When I get an application I ask my assistant to screen it and provide a short summary. I never look at the CV unless I have first spoken to the candidate. This guarantees a fresh and unbiased look and challenges the candidate’s integrity, pointing to the consistency between what he or she says and writes.
Dare to give the candidate an “insolvable” task. Within the framework of a second interview the most promising candidates are given the chance to cope with an “insolvable” case study often involving an ethical dilemma. During a short presentation we gain a lot of insights: are they open to frankly addressing the dilemma? Can they stand up for their own values and beliefs? Are they conforming to our opinion just because they desperately need the job? How do they tackle a task they cannot solve? Are they open to feedback or do they argue?
Dare to hire from different industries. People who do not know our industry but are hungry for a new environment generally add a lot of value by questioning standard solutions, generating innovative ideas, or providing valuable benchmarks.
Dare to hire “hungry teachers.” I see surgeons becoming truck drivers, I see people in their 50s leaving secure positions to get another bachelor degree, I see young people following their dreams and founding great companies. Our planet needs bold people following their true callings. I therefore prefer people who are driven by passion rather than those who are experienced but bored and stuck-in-the-middle. I would like to see more people igniting the fire inside them to become real change agents.
Dare to put yourself second. Forget about the command-and-control mechanism. Strong leaders never put themselves in the limelight. Once a month we run an employee forum for sharing ideas, allowing room for questioning management decisions or providing some specific coaching. We strive to create a really open atmosphere where people develop the courage to speak up, which nurtures the courage for developing open and authentic relationships with our clients.
Know your purpose and the company’s mission. The candidates you want to win are those who challenge you as a leader. I am deeply impressed by individuals who ask me about my leadership style, or who want to learn more about my personal values and principles. Moreover, they ask whether my life purpose is fueling the corporate mission, which is the prerequisite for creating an authentic business.
Live your passion. Do the work you love or love the work you do! Anything else leads to depression, burnout, and loss of self-confidence. Ideally you choose a job that is hundred percent consistent with your authentic calling. The same applies to leaders. You will learn and acquire some leadership skills over the course of your career. However, leadership is not a role you are playing, or a profession you learn. It is a true calling. In this sense authentic leaders are first “born” with innate leadership qualities and only later “made” through the acquisition of certain skills. By blending your courage to be true to yourself with choosing leadership as your authentic calling you develop a “deadly” combination for moving people’s hearts.
Reward authenticity. The sad news is that business, politics, and education are not rewarding authenticity yet. We all are growing up in a command-and-control society, which nurtures our constant fear of not amounting to anything. Furthermore, success is still measured against the amount of money we accumulate or how fast we advance in our career. Therefore, reward people who dare to stand up, raise a voice, or live up to their own values and ideas.
Leadership to me is creating an environment of trust and credibility based on the leader’s authenticity, building a platform, and inviting your followers to let their passion flow.
What does all this mean to employees seeking true fulfillment in their jobs? Don’t shy away from applying to a position if you lack the skills or experience but feel a deep passion for the work you’d like to do. The world is crying for authentic people who dare to be themselves, paving the way towards great solutions to our most burning problems on earth.
Andreas Dudàs. Swiss, visionary entrepreneur, mentor, motivational speaker, and expert on authentic leadership. More than 20 years experience in top executive positions in over 25 countries. Founder of the BE SHiRO Group in Switzerland and India, dedicated to empower individuals and organizations to achieve greatness through authenticity. Author of “Do you dare to be yourself? Developing power in life and leadership through authenticity." Learn more about Andreas at www.andreasdudas.com/book.