In Praise of Humanity and Authenticity at Work

10/30/2007 12:18 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

If there are two things business could really use more of today its humanity and authenticity. Whether it's from political correctness run wild or fear of litigation or just the mind numbing bureaucracy weighing down so many of the world's largest companies, all too often business leaders forget one simple fact: employees are humans. Not numbers. Not overhead. But people. And, more than ever, these "people" have choices about where and how they want to work. So it seems to me the message for business leaders is clear: treat employees like people. Be straight with them. Respect them. Make them feel valued. And do it with integrity and authenticity.

I myself, with a highly engaged, relatively polarizing personality (eg, you're crazy about me or I drive you crazy), have spent the better part of my 20+ year career trying to find the right balance between organizational effectiveness and authenticity. One of the most important things I've learned during this leadership journey is that you have to be yourself. You can style flex to be a better version of yourself - as I've done many times to work better with different clients or in different companies or just because I have areas to improve upon. But, you won't succeed if you try to be someone else entirely day in and day out. You'll be miserable. And, the people you're working with won't instinctively feel comfortable with you. You can't effectively lead people if they don't trust you and they won't trust you if they don't think they know who you are and where you're coming from.

So, as one of the millions of working stiffs out there, I encourage all leaders to be bold. Get out there. Give your employees the information they need to do their jobs and to feel part of the broader organization. Present it in a clear, compelling and relevant manner. You don't have to be an amazing orator. You don't have to be comedic or pithy if that's not you. Just don't duck the tough stuff. Don't hide behind consultant speak. Don't stoop to obfuscation through corporate blah blah. Be direct, honest and as personal as appropriate. It may not be the norm anymore. In fact, it feels almost like a lost art. But, it can be done - even at work - and it has such power to transform - both employee relationships and organizations. Great leaders know this and make use of it to the benefit of all.

Finally, I want to add my thanks and praise to all the outstanding executives out there today who say what they mean, mean what they say and have the guts to bring their whole selves to work. Corporate America needs more folks like you!

By Perry Yeatman, SVP of International Corporate Affairs and Global Issues Management for Kraft Foods and co-author of Get Ahead by Going Abroad: A Women's Guide to Fast Track Career Success.