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  • Authentic Leadership Hinges on Listening

    November 16, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Organizational Structure
    Two men discuss an issue in the workplace.

    TAGS: leadership, personal development, nace insights

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Calvin Williams begins his day in the Florida State University (FSU) career center by walking around, saying good morning to staff.

    “I make it a point to say good morning to everyone,” he says. “With some, I get a high five or a fist bump, some just say hello and keep going. But, sometimes they stop me to give me information, to talk to me, to give me suggestions.”

    It’s the walking around, he says, that reinforces the idea that he is available and ready to listen to ideas from his staff.

    That willingness to listen to staff opinions is a key premise of “authentic leadership,” a theory that former Medtronic CEO Bill George popularized in the early 2000s in his book, "Authentic Leadership." It pulls on positive psychology to improve professional performance and job satisfaction, and has worked well in non-academic settings. For his Ph.D. dissertation, Williams polled career center leaders (directors and executive directors), and then polled career center staff, to see if the same success could be duplicated in career centers.

    Through his research, Williams found that people like to have a say in their work, and that’s true whether the workplace is academic or not. When leaders listen to ideas from staff, enabling staff to provide input into the what, how, and why work will be done, everyone wins, Williams says. He has found that people feel appreciated and job satisfaction rises.

    According to Williams, an authentic leader works to create a nurturing environment where people feel valued and appreciated, thereby supporting good relations among staff and enhancing the organizational structure. An authentic leader builds trust by openly sharing information and remaining consistent in words, thoughts, and actions when dealing with staff. And, says Williams, an authentic leader looks at all sides of issues, gathering multiple viewpoints before making final decisions.

    “You need grit,” he says. “You will hear things you don’t want to hear, but you know where people are coming from and that’s half the battle. They have a chance to give their opinion and it helps.”

    According to Williams, besides a willingness to really listen to, consider, and act fairly on input, an authentic leader exhibits other positive behaviors:

    • An authentic leader must care about those he or she is working with and demonstrate flexibility.
    • An authentic leader needs to see the “bigger picture” and be able to provide staff and the organization with a mission.
    • An authentic leader is able to create positive work outcomes and improve performance.
    • An authentic leader is true to him- or herself and is trusted by staff, co-workers, and higher-ups.

    While authentic leadership benefits those who practice its tenets, according to Williams (“It has helped me get to the seat I’m in and will help with the next step up,” he says.)—it also benefits staff.

    Having the freedom to offer input “helps them grow as leaders. They do a better job. They care [about their work]. It gives them job satisfaction,” Williams says.

    According to Williams, “It’s easy to listen to input. When I was two seats below, I wanted to give input. You don’t have to take every [suggestion], but you have to be willing to listen. [As the leader,] I’m going to make the final decision. If it’s bad, it’s mine as the leader. If it’s good, it’s ours.”

    Calvin Williams recently led a NACE webinar on authentic leadership.

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