13 Expert Tips for Maintaining Authenticity

Leaders who acknowledge the evolving needs of each employee are able to create workplaces that make space for vulnerability and humanity.

Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights.
Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights. Photos courtesy of the individual members.

No matter how successful a company is, the achievements won't last long-term if employees don't feel supported. After all, the success of an organization relies on the contributions of the individual team members. Leaders who acknowledge the evolving needs of each employee are able to create workplaces that make space for vulnerability and humanity.

However, operating in a primarily virtual world requires that leaders adapt while still maintaining a high level of genuine connection with their teams. Here, 13 members of Newsweek Expert Forum share key actions leaders can take to sustain engagement and authenticity in today's virtual environment.

1. Prioritize Individuals

A combination of empathy and thoughtful communication is key. There is a great need for empathy as we each live our own unique set of circumstances. Leaders and professionals must focus on caring for the individuals that drive the business as emotional and personal needs evolve. It is also important to create moments that prioritize colleagues, acknowledge one another and celebrate wins as a team. I encourage colleagues to also share blockers or items that might stand in the way of reaching a goal so we may work together to identify a solution. There is no better way to be authentic than to simply be an understanding human being. - Luis Romo, PurpleSun Inc.

2. Check In

The past year showed that virtual settings can offer a level of engagement and connection that was once believed to be possible only with in-person meetings. Thought leaders and professionals show authentic connection by checking in with individuals and not only with team leaders or groups. Company-wide surveys shed light on climate and culture. However, inviting individuals to express their concerns and strategies for facing challenges helps leaders get to know employees first-hand. A brief check-in at quarterly intervals can maintain a sense of belonging and help identify problems when they are small and manageable before they become large and take up more time and energy. We have developed scientifically based interventions to increase authentic and other-centered engagement in a virtual world. - Helen Riess, Empathetics, Inc

3. Show the Real You

You have to walk the walk—don't be afraid to be vulnerable and show your "real" self even on a Zoom call. If the baby's crying during a call or the dog is barking, let it be. It humanizes you. - Mandi Woodruff, LendingTree

4. Foster Real-Time Interactions

I recommend video calls all the way. Beyond one-on-one or even group meetings, they can allow you to foster a community based on real-time interaction, not just quick asynchronous notes and replies. Fireside-style chats with smaller groups are becoming more important, as are podcasts with real people. - Ivan Ravlich, Hypernet Labs

5. Get to Know Yourself

Communication via any medium requires self-knowledge first. Take the time to get to know yourself, and then figure out how to communicate vital aspects of that knowledge to others using whichever tools become available. Learning to use new tools is important, but this knowledge means little if you don't know what to say or why you're saying it. - Colin Wright, Let's Know Things

6. Be Real and Open

Transparency is the big one. Being at home has forced many of us to be more real on camera and show our real lives happening behind us for others to see. Owning that, making light of it and acknowledging our humanity opens the door for others. Also, be open to questions. So much is uncertain, so how about owning that uncertainty with our peers, staff and customers? When we're open to questions and potentially not knowing the answers, we project the new leadership required for our world right now. - Lauree Ostrofsky, Simply Leap, LLC

7. Spend Time Communicating Directly

Leaders should spend more screen time just communicating directly to their people. It will set the culture, the tone and the authenticity. Make the commentary intentional and relevant with weekly or monthly webcasts where people can see what you're doing, your energy and your passion. If you are not comfortable as a leader speaking in front of a panel, use your creativity to create monthly broadcasts where it's not your voice or face, but possibly music and video reels. Create engaging content that motivates your people lets them know what's happening and why you value them as employees and what exciting new projects are coming next. - Lisa Phillips, Affordable Real Estate Investments

8. Foster More Interactions

Transparency and authenticity can be best served by using today's virtual tools to foster more interactivity and less lecturing. Open the floor to a live discussion. Don't just hold a meeting and deliver your messages. This interactivity also increases employee engagement in an effort to alleviate Zoom fatigue. - Jeff Hoffman, Global Entrepreneurship Network

9. Do What You Would Do in Person

Having the visual element is key to engagement and connection. Turn your camera on and forget about the virtual background. Let people see into your world of mess, interruptions and pets. Doing this enables people not just to project authenticity but to fully bring it. To engage, keep doing the same things you would do in person; show interest and attention, maintain eye contact, engage in small talk and listen with your eyes and ears. You can create a powerful, present and connected image of yourself in the Zoom box. - Michelle Tillis Lederman, Executive Essentials LLC

10. Interact and Engage in Real-Time

I predict we'll see more real-time interaction and engagement with customers and coworkers in more casual environments like home surroundings where professional and personal lives intersect. Many conferences this year went virtual overnight due to the immediate shutdown COVID-19 forced us into. Many of these events tried to replicate as much of the physical conference experience as possible, but some in-person experiences just can't be effectively replicated virtually, and just trying to recreate what you did at physical events doesn't allow you to take advantage of capabilities virtual technologies have to offer. When your audience is sitting at home surrounded by screens of all sizes streaming various kinds of content, you have to use whatever you can to keep their attention for as long as you can in order to convert that attention into meaningful engagement.- Brent Leary, CRM Essentials, LLC

11. Have Consistent Messaging

As a thought leader, it's important to be very clear on who you are trying to reach, be clear on what you do and don't stand for and project that in a consistent manner across all of your online platforms. Whether you are on Facebook, Instagram, sending an email, posting a story or selling a product, your messaging needs to be consistent. When people see that consistency, it will form a coherent picture that shows your authenticity. - Leslie Samuel, I Am Leslie Samuel

12. Help Others View Vulnerability as a Strength

I think this virtual world is causing people to show up authentically whether they want to or not. We are now peering into the homes of people who may have previously shut employees out of that aspect of their lives. What we need to focus on is helping people understand that showing vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. It's okay to hug your kids during a conference call if they enter the room while you're meeting virtually. It's also okay to excuse yourself from a Zoom conference call if you're caring for an elderly parent. We have to be okay with vulnerability in times like this because doing so does not detract from your ability to lead, produce, meet quotas or be professional. - Monique Caradine-Kitchens, OverFlow Enterprises LLC

13. Be Vulnerable

We currently live in a world where content creators are committed to building a brand, and as a result, sometimes their natural way of being doesn't fit in with their brand. With the rise of online course training and sales, it's so important to show who you truly are and make space for vulnerability and authenticity in your brand. This sort of trust-building is refreshing and captivating in today's world and this sort of honest triggers higher engagement. - Ashley Stahl, Ashley International

The Newsweek Expert Forum is an invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.
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