Q&A: why authenticity is crucial for strong leadership 

Cultivating a culture of empathy and authenticity is imperative, says Steve Deverill, managing partner of Eton Bridge Partners, executive search, interim management and business consulting firm

Etonbridge Steve Deverill

Steve Deverill shares the value of more human leadership traits such as emotional intelligence and explains how to successfully lead with empathy and authenticity. Building long-standing and genuine relationships is one of the company’s core strengths and this is mirrored by the culture that’s created within the business. 

Eton Bridge Partners forms trusted partnerships with clients and candidates by upholding a commitment to ‘put people at the heart of business’. The company strives to make a positive difference by championing support, authenticity and excellence.

Deverill explains how Eton Bridge Partners cultivates a culture of empathy by making work/life balance a priority – and how this commitment is reflected in definitive action and the company principles.

What makes a good leader?

For me, authenticity is crucial to leadership and building relationships across the business. People need to be able to trust you, and this only comes when they know that you are being true to yourself. In today’s world, a good leader needs to have a high level of emotional intelligence, you need to care about people and see them for who they are. Understanding the people you work with and creating an environment where they are comfortable being themselves at work will ultimately create a high-performance culture.

Eton Bridge Partners’ values of spirit, trust and excellence run through everything that we do. We treat everyone we interact with – clients, colleagues, peers – in the right way; a philosophy that’s reflected in our ‘refreshingly human’ ethos. 

John Maxwell’s approach to leadership sums up this approach; ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ This empathetic culture goes alongside the classic hallmarks that you would expect from a strong leader - clear communication, decisiveness, energy, drive and positivity. 

How do you inspire your team?

I think back to leaders who have inspired me - when I first joined Eton Bridge Partners, the business was led by the founders; they displayed kindness and fairness, were clear on the objectives of the business and led from the front. They developed loyalty and followership because they treated people with fairness and empathy. 

I try to emulate that in my own leadership style. It’s a collaborative and supportive approach; we are not a hierarchical business. Our culture is based on altruistic principles - everybody is more important than the individual. So, it’s about co-creation: how are we going to take the business forward together, how are we going to meet our objectives? 

I believe a leader needs to display energy, drive and positivity to inspire their team – I see that as one of my strengths. The tone you set dictates how people will follow. If you start the day with a very positive mindset and a high level of energy, that permeates throughout the business. 

What position or experience has shaped your leadership style? 

My role as Head of the Transformation Practice at Eton Bridge shaped me as a leader. I was committed to building a tight-knit team, who were super collaborative, had high levels of trust in each other and empowered people to deliver in their own way. I have taken those guiding principles into my current role. 

It’s not enough in today’s world to just look through the lens of what creates shareholder value, it’s about balancing organisational culture and business performance. Our business growth is dependent on our people performing at a high level, so my focus is on creating a culture where people can realise their potential.

What would you like to change most in your industry? 

Whilst most businesses in the world of executive search and interim management are highly reputable companies that operate with total integrity, there is still a cohort who are focused on winning business at all costs. Their reputation harms the broader market.

At Eton Bridge Partners, we focus on treating everyone with care - relationships are at the heart of everything we do. One of our givens is a high level of meaningful communication; if you have committed time to come and see us, then we want to know what we can do to help you. We give clients and candidates full and constructive levels of feedback that will help them on their journey. 

What is the leader’s role in shaping organisational culture? 

The leader’s role is critical in shaping the organisational culture. The leader sets high standards for behaviour and performance - they need to be the exemplar of the values. People have to know that the leader is serious about their duty of care to their employees. 

Organisational culture cannot merely be words and good intentions – authenticity comes about through actions that impact meaningfully on people’s lives. Our values are not just words on a wall; they are how we behave, they are what we do. We don’t just talk about creating a culture of trust, we take concrete action to do so. One such initiative is our 9DF (nine-day fortnight) - we were one of the first recruitment businesses to implement this approach which gives employees one day off a fortnight. 

We wanted to give people the space to be able to operate at their highest level on a sustained basis. We recognise that in our industry, you can work long hours, so we wanted to create the space and the time to enable people to step away from the business to help their mental health and work/life balance. 

We started it as a trial as we wanted to be sure that our numbers and productivity would be just as good, and they were. The feedback we have had has been enormously positive -  we are demonstrating that the business does care about people as individuals. It’s not about just continually billing more and more, it’s about the people. 

We also ensure that training and support is available to develop people’s careers and we make plenty of space for fun – creating an environment where people are friends at work is hugely beneficial because, naturally, you want to help and support your friends. The autonomy and trust we have built into our culture means people genuinely enjoy working here and it’s a big draw for new joiners too.

For more information please visit etonbridgepartners.com