Sam Walton passed away two years prior to my start at Walmart Inc. in 1994. And although I never met Mr. Sam, the legacy he left in the company made me feel as though I knew him from day one. People knew his hot buttons and what his expectations were. He was consistent with his behavior of what he expected of himself, of others and of the company. He also took time to know the associates and made sure each person knew who they are and what they do matters. This leadership style had a ripple effect within Walmart that has truly stood the test of time.
What’s your leadership style?
Leadership can be confusing, just for the sheer number of definitions, books written about it, and theories on the subject. It seems as if everyone these days has a different definition of leadership, and there are literally thousands of books written on the subject.
Still, there is no one-size-fits-all leadership personality or set of characteristics one should pursue as a leader. A recent study found that people did not identify any universal characteristics, traits, skills, or styles that led to their success. Rather, their leadership emerged from their life stories. Consciously and subconsciously, they were constantly testing themselves through real-world experiences and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core. In doing so, they discovered the purpose of their leadership and learned that being authentic made them more effective.
Discovering your authenticity as a leader is something that is not only essential for you individually but it can be the stone that creates a ripple effect on a culture that permeates throughout your company. Here are five ways to ignite authentic leadership within your company.
Consistency is Key — People want to work with leaders who are the same through and through. They don’t want to worry about walking into one situation wondering what kind of leader is going to show up that day — good, bad or ugly. The same is true for performance. Your team should be able to rely on you to be consistent in your timely response and thoughtful in your feedback. Mr. Sam established the sundown rule where you get back to someone within 24 hours as a behavioral expectation for those working in the company. That may seem like a small thing but when I made a conscious effort to do it, others around me would share how meaningful it was.
Have Courage — No one can lead authentically unless they have the courage to truly be themselves. When I first stepped into an executive leadership role, I realized how much more impactful I became when I chose to be open, honest and vulnerable. I didn’t try to be gruff or rough or act like a man. I was feminine and decisive. I had a ‘girly girl’ persona and always found a way to speak up and voice valuable opinions. I learned to share my voice in a way that could sway votes, help make change, and even change the perception about myself. I wasn’t someone who didn’t deserve to be in the room. I wasn’t just in the room because I was a woman. I was somebody who had the courage to make change, drive improvements, and help the organization and others be highly successful.
Use Your Moral Compass — Having a sense of your motivations and what drives you is key to being an authentic leader. You have to have a sense of what is right and what is wrong as well as have behavioral expectations that are key. Like bright lines on a highway, it’s important to stay in your lane and not stray from your core values and convictions. This includes controversial behavior such as off-color jokes, inappropriate comments about how someone looks, overused F-bombs or negative remarks about somebody’s faith or religious preferences. Don’t wait for someone else to address the issue. When you feel strong and convicted about something you can (and should) stand up about these issues for yourself and others. This ultimately builds a culture of respect for the individual that creates a strong workplace culture.
Create a Holistic Work Environment — I’m a big believer that work and life shouldn’t be separate and people should have the freedom to bring their whole selves to work. We now have decades of research dedicated to understanding the effects of employee motivation and how it relates to the physical office space. Studies have shown that a workplace that encourages collaborative working, increases productivity by 15%.
Google’s workspace promotes a mindset of “life at Google is not all work”. This strategy creates “casual collision” between employees with an overall focus on employee engagement vs. business results alone.
The company’s innovative office space challenges the antiquated office structures (senior management on the upper floors and juniors on the lower floors), resulting in people of various career levels working and collaborating together.
In Bentonville, we have a local hangout called The Holler where you can find employees working and meeting offsite in a space that combines work, play, and community. The best part? Research shows that changing your work environment improves work productivity.
Ultimately, authentic leadership causes you to dig deep, be clear about your own values and beliefs, and be who you are versus who others want you to be. Don’t sell yourself short.
You owe it to yourself and your team to be authentic and to speak your mind. Authenticity adds color to the world, just as adversity adds a well-needed contrast. Bring your whole self. Bring your perspective. Bring your courage, and then be the one who initiates change.