How Authentic Leadership Defines the Difference Between a Good and a Great Company

Running an organization, large or small, can feel a little bit like herding cats. There are multiple moving parts and multiple stakeholders. Unless you exude a strong, authentic leadership ethic, it can be difficult to inspire trust and keep everything moving in the right direction.

What is authentic leadership? It’s a concept created by Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School who wrote the book on the subject – literally. In his 2004 book, Authentic Leadership, George explains that character is one of the most important elements for those who wish to become authentic leaders. He says it takes “transformative work” to earn the moniker. Authentic leaders carefully monitor what they say and do because they are sensitive to those around them, according to George. They care about the people who work for and with them, and in doing so make sure they focus on five “essential dimensions,” including purpose, values, heart, relationships, and self-discipline. Authentic leaders create loyal customers, partners, and employees as well as true business value for their companies. Sounds good, right?

During this year's National Association for Home Care and Hospice Annual Meeting I was honored to sit down with some of the true leaders in the home health and hospice industry and ask them to explain their definition of authentic leadership and how that definition translates to their businesses. As you would expect, there were some commonalities in their answers.



Below, find 5 things these executives identified as true hallmarks of being an authentic leader.

Help employees find inspiration. While everyone wants to get paid, money isn’t the only motivator, something that’s clear when you read George’s book. When employees love what they do, enjoy who they are working with, and have a greater purpose, they are more likely to do a good job and stay in a position. After all, research tells us that people don’t make the decision to stay with a company, they stay where they are valued and inspired, where they have friends, and where they feel like they can make a difference in the world. “Culture really makes or breaks success,” explains Amy Lafko, founder and principal at Cairn Consulting Solutions. “Companies can fake it for a while and get by with a negative culture, but soon productivity is going to start to decline, patient experience is going to start to go down. Suddenly, you are having high turnover rates.” As Lafko points out, culture is what your company is made of and it’s why people want to stay or go. If employees don’t feel supported and valued they are going to leave, she says. 

Choose honesty every time. There’s a school of thought that says employees should only have information on a need to know basis. 2018 NAHC attendees disagree, however, aligning with George’s take on the subject. Attendees say that while hiding or even bending the truth may work in some instances, you’re going to engender more loyalty and inspire your employees and partners more by telling them the truth, even if the truth hurts. “We’re not trying to hide information from our peers or from the people who work for us and with us,” explains Teresa Lee, the chief government affairs officer and VP, Foundation Relations with the VNA Health Group. “I go back to the word transparency…the more information we all have access to – and that we’re all on the same page and held accountable to -- the better.” 

Be part of the team. Answer this: Would you do everything you ask your employees to do? If the answer is no, you’ve got a problem. Your employees probably know it and may even resent you for it. However, if you demonstrate that you’re part of the team, you and your team succeed, says Cheryl Lovell, CEO of Southland Home Health, Hospice, Geriatric and Palliative Care. “You can really build a solid team and lead them when you all fit the same values like smart, humble, and hungry.” When you show your employees you’re in the fight with them and willing to serve alongside of them rather than just watching them work, you will see far more benefits, she says.

Give your employees a voice. Amedisys encourages employees to speak up and be actively involved in their company’s process and business, and share information with other employees. Employees are encouraged to record videos sharing why they are passionate about their job. Those videos are posted on social media and sent out in all internal communications. According to Amedisys, treating their staff like family results in patients being treated in the same way – like family members. George takes this idea one step further by saying that employees must be empowered, giving employees the freedom to innovate, learn from each other, and grow. 

Don’t forget the customer. The home healthcare industry often gets caught up in emerging regulations, paperwork, and the minutia that, as every CEO knows, needs to happen so everyone can get paid. However, one of the most important things you can do is think about what’s at the core of everything – the customer– and be passionate about them so your employees are inspired to do the same. “The people who work for Evergreen, seem, like me, to be very engaged in home care,” says Brent Korte, executive director of EvergreenHealth Home Care. “They fight for our patients, and our managers in turn fight for their clinicians and our support staff fight for our patients as well whether they are directly supporting our patients or not,” he says. 

At Forcura, we see authentic leadership in action on a daily basis. It starts at the top with our CEO and founder Craig Mandeville. Craig has a strong commitment to helping employees finding inspiration, giving them a voice, choosing honesty every time, and continually reminding our team to focus on the patient. He knows that leadership doesn’t just come from the top and he empowers all of us to innovate and grow. The result is an award-winning company with a great culture and passionate, loyal employees. It’s authentic leadership at its finest, something we at Forcura know everyone could experience with a little work and a lot of faith.

Annie Erstling leads strategy and marketing for Forcura. She has experience launching new brands, products and companies in the healthcare, technology, hospitality and consumer products industries on both the corporate and agency side of marketing. Connect with Annie on LinkedIn. 

Topics: Building a Company Culture, Culture of Service

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