Sincerity Is the Key to Successful Organizational Leadership

Topic(s): leadership, personality
Publication: Harvard Business Review (2013)
Article: Be Yourself, but Carefully
Authors: L. Rosh, L. Offermann
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

By now surely everyone knows that the key to successful organizational leadership is sincerity. Genuine leadership — that is, leadership by individuals who make an effort to be open and honest in their dealings — has become the gold standard for successful team building and a basic expectation for professional advancement. No one wants to work for someone who is cold or aloof. Master networkers and business leaders earn their titles by being authentic and real.

However, there is a fine line between being genuine, on the one hand, and over-sharing or talking about yourself in a self-deprecating manner, on the other. If you ever hope to be seen as a credible source, you want people to be able to trust in you and take you seriously. That means you must be able to walk a tightrope between the two extremes. Not an easy task. Fortunately, the authors (Rosh & Offerman, 2013) have explored this issue and brought us new information regarding leadership psychology that provides some helpful tips and advice on how to balance along that line:


(1) ‘Build a foundation of self-knowledge’ – Take a good, hard look at yourself and reflect on how your experiences have enabled you to become the person you are today. Ask for feedback. Think about which stories portray you in the best light or show healthy growth, and which ones you might want to keep to yourself. 

(2) ‘Consider relevance to the task’ – Share anecdotes related to the task at hand. Don’t simply make small talk in an effort to ingratiate yourself to others. Genuine leadership is about building a strong, functional team, not about shoring up personal insecurities by becoming everyone’s pal.

(3) ‘Keep revelations genuine’ – This one is simple: Don’t make anything up. Successful organizational leadership is based on trust.

(4) ‘Understand the organizational and cultural context’ – Be aware of cultural norms, and consider how others from different countries, companies, or functions will react to what you are saying. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and sensitivity. It isn’t mere political correctness to respect the feelings and experiences of others.

(5) ‘Delay or avoid very personal disclosures’ – Avoid sharing overly embarrassing stories about yourself or other private information. Instead, reserve these things for friends and family, after the work day is done.