The choices Pete* made through a difficult process provide a useful case study of success through Authentic Leadership.
Pete knew that he had to restructure the company. He consulted widely outside the organisation, not just about the shape but the process of restructuring. He confided in core team members and sought their input. While always focusing on what was best for the company overall, the small team worked hard to minimize retrenchments. When finally the team were agreed, that they had optimized the structure to give the organisation the best chance at achieving its vision, even though they were very uncomfortable with the change and what it would mean for some of their colleagues, they were ready to take it to their employees. Over a period of 2 weeks Pete communicated with every employee, with transparency and openness. He dealt with the few retrenchments with compassion, fairness and again honesty.
The whole process had taken 4 months, it had been swift. While employees were very uncomfortable with the changes and the impact on individuals, they almost all agreed that the outcome was the right one. They could understand what the restructure was and what possibilities lay in it. They also experienced the transparency, the willingness of the CEO to talk with them directly and honestly, even the willingness of the CEO to act. Employees also understood that the employees directly effected where treated respectfully.
Pete talked about this being the most difficult thing he had done. Difficult because it had felt so terrible. It felt in conflict with his values, though he realised it was the feelings that were causing the pain not a value conflict. He was actually being active in working with his values in his execution. He confessed that there were times when he really wanted someone to talk him out of it. This was personal, he knew the people who were effected, they were good people, just in the wrong roles at the wrong time.
What lessons of Authentic Leadership can we learn?
- Pete was open to input. He consulted widely enough to ensure he was balanced in his decisions.
- How Pete operated through this restructure was guided by his values – collaboration, engaging, compassion, leadership, responsibility. Pete was uncompromising in his commitment to what was best for the success and longevity of the business, no short cuts, no compromise to lessen the personal discomfort he was experiencing.
- Core to this story is the amount of engagement and positive capital achieved through the restructure. Pete worked hard to be very transparent with everyone in the organisation. It was clear through all his engagement with employees what Pete stood for and how that translated into his actions.
- Self awareness enabled Pete to notice the discomfort he was experiencing and call it for what it was. It did not derail him, it did not harden him, it enabled him to have empathy for his colleagues and employees.
- Pete has reflected on the experience and has learnt about his ability to stay with the discomfort of his actions and continue on.
*note the CEO’s name has been changed.