Leading With Authenticity
June 14, 2017
By Mia Mends
There is perhaps no topic more relevant than authenticity to my life, my career, and my leadership role, so I am especially excited about the opportunity to participate in the keynote panel, “Leading With Authenticity,” at Brandon Hall Group’s A Way Forward: Women in Leadership Summit, June 15–16 in Delray Beach, Florida.
I will join two other professional women—Jenny Dearborn, SVP and CLO at SAP, and Nellie Borrero, Global Inclusion and Diversity Managing Director at Accenture—and we will share our stories and discuss the importance and power of authenticity.
By definition, authenticity requires being real, and for women, that often translates to sharing and acting on feelings—certainly not something that has traditionally been welcomed or encouraged in the workplace. When I took my first Myers-Briggs test back in business school, I tested off the charts with an “F” (feeling). The accompanying analysis indicated that people of my profile—“high F”—were unlikely to ascend to the heights of executive leadership. But I believe that has changed, and we are discovering that women’s inherent social and interpersonal skills can actually provide them—and their employers—with a competitive advantage.
Sodexo’s Global CEO, Michel Landel, has gone on record discussing the benefits of gender equality in the workplace as well as the increasing demand for what we call cognitive skills in high-paying jobs. The qualities that make the executives of today successful are the qualities that are most often attributed to women.
In our own company, improving gender balance at all levels has led to an increase in employee engagement, greater customer satisfaction and higher operating profit. But we have an even more impressive data sample to share: Sodexo also conducted a massive research project with McKinsey in which we interviewed 50,000 managers globally, with the goal of determining conclusively—which we did—that gender-balanced teams perform better across key performance indicators.
So that’s the business impact, but there’s also an accompanying cultural impact. At Inspirus, we’re in the engagement business, where it is vital that people feel included, valued, heard, and connected, regardless of who they are, where they come from, their race or their gender. Creating a culture where people can bring their whole selves to work is the essence of diversity and inclusion—and, of course, authenticity.
I’m a huge proponent of kindness, compassion, collaboration, and compromise in the workplace. These are qualities that engender trust—and even loyalty. The best gifts that I can give the world are the ones that come most naturally to me. The ability to be who I am is what gives me the clarity to navigate complex situations and the courage to lead with purpose and conviction. The human aspect of my role is fundamental and by being authentic and compassionate, I have promoted an environment where others act similarly, which enables productivity and organizational engagement.
I believe that women typically possess an enhanced tendency to be vulnerable enough to reveal more facets of their true selves in the workplace. As many of us have discovered, these innate tendencies to collaborate and empathize can serve us well in work situations, ultimately leading to success, however one chooses to define that. And as business evolves to become more connected to people and relationships, the workplace is becoming more conditioned to allow women to thrive. We work in a time when women’s attributes are the ones that are most appreciated in leadership—but we need to seize on that competitive advantage.
More than ever, I’m convinced that you can’t be a good leader without the self-awareness that comes from knowing who you are and what you want. It is that self-awareness that allows us to live our lives authentically, and it is our authenticity that gives us the resolution to lead with purpose and courage. And when we project our own authenticity, we give permission to others to do the same.
These are some of the points I hope to share during our “Leading With Authenticity” conversation at the Women in Leadership Summit, with the goal of helping women leave the conference feeling validated and empowered.