As the Institute of Leadership & Management launches this year’s International Leadership WeekLeadership Everywhere; we are all leaders now’ (16-19 November), one of our speakers and leadership brand coach Harini Chari, shares her thoughts on empowerment, authenticity and diversity of thought. She argues that leaders must empower their staff to be as true to themselves as possible, for our differences give rise to the most valuable contributions. 

When we say that we are working on growing our businesses, we are actually saying that we are working on growing our people. And that must begin with two, interconnected measures: providing safe zones, and embracing an authentic sense of empathy.

Safe zones are necessary for enabling people to bring their whole selves to work. Today, when so many of our identities have merged as we live life through what feels like one, endless videocall, it is stressful to keep those identities separate and discreet. Even so, a recent Deloitte study showed that almost 61% of people are concealing parts of who they are, and brought to the forefront only the aspects they felt would be accepted within their workplace. Yet the more we conceal, the more harm we cause to our sense of self.

Today, to feel truly empowered, employees require safe environments – even if solely online – where they can bring their whole selves to work. And when I say “whole selves”, I mean their different backgrounds and backstories: varied roles and identities, and even relevant vulnerabilities. For it is from all of those differences that their unique thought contributions emerge.

But that’s not going to happen by chance. Leaders must consciously ensure that they first set the stage for, and then actively nurture, a culture in which everyone can be themselves. An environment where people can be acknowledged and celebrated for their differentiated perspectives.

Which brings me to the second point I want to make: as employees bring their whole selves to work, an organic by-product of that within organisations will be a need to embrace an authentic sense of empathy.

Now, the very phrase “authentic empathy” seems like a tautology: can there be any other kind? But authenticity will remain an empty buzzword unless we express it wholeheartedly – infinitely, through a trait, a value… an action. There is no better time to do this than now, when we can express authenticity through a type of empathy that goes beyond the superficial sense of the term – one that goes beneath the surface, and deeper still.

As leaders and employees, our individual diversities are what add so much to our organisations’ unique, collective decision-making power, which goes beyond groupthink. If and when that power is valued correctly – which is to say, empathetically – it could lead to innovation and growth.

Leadership can certainly add a fresh dimension to management. But only when the conversation shifts from diversity being an affirmation of quality to an acknowledgement and appreciation of the experiences, insights and capabilities that arise from our unique blends of identities – not in spite of them. How we choose to leverage all this potential within our rapidly changing environments is what’s going to change the game.

Book your FREE place to hear Harini Chari speak here at this year’s International Leadership Week. Harini is a clinical professor at the Asian Institute of Management, specialising in leadership personal branding and management communications and will be exploring what bringing your whole self to work really means for leaders and their teams.