You’ll often hear me talk about Red Shoes Living as following a path that is bold, rare, and authentic—a life that stands out like a pair of red shoes. On a personal level, that’s pretty easy to understand. But what does authenticity look like, in particular, at the leadership level? How does it factor into today’s corporate environment—and your bottom line?
It’s important to remember that passion, for many, does not always reside in the business. In fact, for most employees, real passion resides outside of the business. Likewise, on-the-job happiness is typically not connected to a paycheck. Instead, employees are most content when they feel valued, and they believe they are contributing to something larger—when they feel like they have a seat at the table.
While authentic leadership involves trusting and respecting employees, at its essence, it means caring for them, too. That requires understanding them well enough to know what they’re truly passionate about both in and out of the office. And then, of course, tapping into those passions through action.
Here’s a quick example: a few months back I wanted to show appreciation to Jodi Rock, one of my UK employees. She had recently gotten married and I knew that both she and her husband were avid CrossFit fans. I sent them both CrossFit hoodies as a wedding gift; and later, when she was in Park City, UT on business, I arranged a training session for her with Chris Spealler, one of the nation’s top CrossFit athletes. Of course, a gift does not have to be as extensive as this. It can be as simple as a bottle of wine for the connoisseur in accounting. Or maybe it’s not even a gift at all. Maybe it’s an afternoon off
o watch their child play soccer. Or it’s a simple conversation where you show a genuine interest.
My point is, this is my way of saying, “I see you, I value the work that you do, and I want to thank you.” Employees, in turn, know that I really do care about them—that they are more than a social security number, a paycheck, an ROI. As a result, they’re also more inclined to give me their best performance. A case in point: after the CrossFit training with Chris, Jodi reached out to thank me for the thought I put into her gift and for going the extra mile when I didn’t have to. “I will walk through walls for you,“ she said. “Thank you for making me feel like I’m more than just an employee. When my friends tell me they want my job, I feel incredibly lucky to work for an organization that values me. And it’s not something I will ever take for granted.”
This genuine care for the employee is essential to the spirit of the individual and the spirit of the company as a whole. It’s a large component of authentic leadership and, in turn, Red Shoes Culture.
Let’s look at two companies that frequently make headlines: Chiobani Yogurt and Uber. The CEO and founder of Chiobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, has a history of caring for his employees. He hires refugees. He offers paid family leave to his entire staff. And last year, he announced that was giving his employees part ownership in the company.
Uber, by comparison, seems to be imploding, primarily because of its leadership. Allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment, employee and driver beratement, lawsuits, and questionable ethics have become commonplace. Just last month, The New York Times, wrote an article detailing the company’s “Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture.”
These companies are on opposite sides of the Red Shoes authenticity spectrum, but you get the gist.
I know what you’re thinking now: the concept of authentic leadership is all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, business is always going to boil down to the bottom line. And I get that. Ulukaya gets that, too. That’s why, when he announced that he was releasing shares to his employees, he also told them: "This isn't a gift. It's a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility. To continue to create something special and of lasting value."
In the end, the goal remains the same. It’s about business performance, growth, and—yes—making money. But I will argue that it’s also about being able to sleep at night. And to do that, you must give back. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving away part of your company. But it does mean giving a damn about your employees—and showing that you genuinely care. This, my friends, is what authentic Red Shoes Leadership is all about.