What Does it Really Mean to Be Authentic?

We hear a call to authenticity everywhere these days. In business, it has become an important measure and standard for performance. Being authentic is not as simple as the dictionary definition of being “true to one’s personality, spirit or character,” since we need to conform to certain norms of professionalism and decorum that might not be how we behave or appear in our personal lives. However, it has been well established that authenticity is critical to client/consumer confidence as well as generating job satisfaction in the teams we lead. Here are some insights that may help you work on being intentionally authentic.

It is not about being self-centered -> personal branding is not personal bragging

One activity I use to kick off a personal branding workshop is to ask the attendees who can they name that has a clear personal brand. Most of the time the answers include Elon Musk, Oprah, the Rock. For example, Elon Musk recently tweeted about the auto industry in a very direct and laissez-faire manner, “Tesla & Ford are the only American carmakers not to have gone bankrupt out of 1000’s of car startups. Prototypes are easy, production is hard & being cash flow positive is excruciating.” Although Elon Musk has a visible brand, there are times when his tweets have earned both positive and negative feedback from the market. In this case, the CEO of Ford, Farley, tweeted in response, “Respect.” There are many examples where Musk has been more self-centered, however, this example is a solid reflection of his “direct,” no holds barred personal brand.

Your brand is a series of promises and expectations — what do people expect when they communicate or collaborate with you?

Be confident in your perspective and share it with empathy, keeping the audience in mind

Jon Stewart hosted The Daily Show on Comedy Central and received critical acclaim with sixteen Emmy Awards. He had many intense interviews, including one with President Barak Obama in which Stewart confronted Obama on his poor debate in the 2012 elections. During the interview, Jon Stewart did not hold back on tough questions. However, Jon’s interview style of humor and accountability garner respect and elicit engagement from his interviewees because it rings true. Jon started off by discussing how he was making a scrapbook of the debates and shared two very different photos post the debate. One with Barak and Michelle happy and the other not so much. Jon made it easier to enter into the discussion and confessed to how he has good and bad nights also. This combination of evidence, empathy, and humor resulted in President Obama acknowledging that the performance was not great. Jon is not afraid of asking the questions his audience wants to hear and yet asking in a way that is authentic and not a gotcha question. Jon Stewart built a reputation for authentic questions with empathy and intentionality.

What is your style of engagement — do you use humor or something else to demonstrate empathy and establish a connection?

Knowing your why and how you want to serve/impact others

Oprah Winfrey had a twenty-five season talk show, and any guest had to watch out when they sat on her couch or in a chair next to her. She was skilled at getting people to be open, vulnerable, and talk about sensitive subjects. She did not hesitate to speak about topics that were courageous and provocative. In 1987 she spoke with Mike Sisco, a gay man from the small town of Williamson, West Virginia, who was shamed for swimming in a public pool after testing positive for AIDS. She gave him space to share his experience, provide context, and be seen as a person. It was typical of her ability to respectfully but pointedly ask questions and bring her audience people into a story that would unfold in each episode. Oprah was, and is, very good at meeting people where they are and moving them through a dialogue. Although Oprah no longer does her talk show, she leverages her Soul Sunday to maintain deep conversations and continue to elevate timely topics (like the Harry and Megan interview). Her brand is very positive and she is the go-to person for critical interviews where the court of public opinion matters.

How do you manifest your why — is it overt or inferred?

Integrating your why and your integrity

A consistent theme among famous, impactful people is a sense of integrity in that many of the most admired names have “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” But it is more than morality, authentic people consciously integrate their true selves into their mission, manifesting their bigger picture why into day-to-day choices. Stacy Abrahms is a great example of walking the walk of her beliefs and priorities. She is well known for spending years of her life working towards voter engagement in Georgia, and her campaign for Senator modeled this priority by efforts such as bringing her campaign focus to rural and underserved communities to encourage them to take interest and action in the election. After she was not elected Senator, she continued her voter drive and was a major force for the results in the most recent election. Abrahms is admired for both her goal — voter empowerment — and her methods.

Are your methods aligned with your why — are you intentional in how you achieve your goals?

Being able to communicate your purpose and failures with humility

Having a truly authentic personal brand means that individuals become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It means that we share what we have learned even if it puts our personal brand at risk. One example is the author, Glennon Doyle, who, known for being authentic by sharing every detail of her life, decided to come out even during the launch of her book about her marriage to a man, this decision could have undermined and discredited her. Because radical honesty was an important part of being authentic, she shared the challenges she faced in her marriage through her book and her new relationship with Abby Wambach. While not everyone was happy with her revelations, most of her followers respected her for being relatable and genuine. None of us is perfect, and sharing our fallibility as well as our lessons learned is an important part of connecting with others in an authentic way.

Do you share your challenges and failures with others — do you include how these were formative moments for you?

The first step towards authenticity is looking inward to ask yourself what matters to you, why it matters and how you want to make a meaningful impact on those around you. People will sense when you are not aligning your acts with your why, and it can negatively impact your brand. Being intentional in your self-assessment and conscious about bringing this into your professional life and role is an important element of success.

Jen Dalton is a personal brand specialist with entrepreneurship in her DNA. Her book, Listen: How To Embrace the Difficult Conversations Life Throws at You, is an insightful guide into navigating tough talks. She helps business owners and executives define how they show up as leaders, make the most of their strengths, and tend to their legacy, growth, and visibility. The author of two books, frequent speaker, podcaster, and “Purpose Sherpa,” Jen is a critical resource for any person or company that wants to define their brand and differentiate themselves in authentic, credible, and relevant ways to the market. thenoisebreaker.com

Originally published on Medium.

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