Authenticity. Does the very word make your hackles stand up?
Like any buzzword, authenticity evokes strong reactions. When we hear it too often, or if we see it used as an excuse for poor behaviour, or for behaviour that is not in fact authentic, it can start to lose its meaning and grate on your nerves.
So what does it mean to be authentic in a business sense? Recently I was a guest on the Business Addicts podcast where we had a robust discussion about authenticity – what it means to be authentic, and whether authenticity is something you can cultivate, or whether that would by definition render your behaviour inauthentic.
These are big questions and I’ve been pondering them ever since.
What is authenticity in business?
Defining authenticity at work is a complex task and to a degree, depends upon the context. What it means to be truly authentic as a storyteller who shares powerful personal stories, may be different from what it means to be authentic in your work as an accountant, or a physiotherapist.
For me, authenticity in business is about consistency. If someone reads your blog, watches your Facebook Live or hears you on a podcast, and then meets you in real life, would they feel like they are talking to the same person?
Are you writing and talking about things that are truly important to you, bringing your fire, energy and passion to what you do? Is the language you use, the opinions you express and the way that you share them, cohesive across your online and offline presence? Are you saying what you really want to say, or are you watering your ideas down to make them ‘acceptable’?
Does that mean that in order to be truly authentic you have to put everything up for public consumption? I don’t think so.
Authenticity does not mean that you have no filter.
In business, we all have a professional presence. There are things we may choose not to say at work or with our clients, that we might say in our less guarded moments with family and friends. I don’t think authenticity is an excuse to say whatever the heck you want and damn the consequences.
For example, you might choose not to express political opinions, or use swear words, in your professional sphere. That doesn’t mean that you’re being inauthentic at work – you’re just choosing to have boundaries around what you do and don’t share in your professional sphere.
The key is that your underlying values and actions are consistent across both your professional and personal spheres. That you know what is meaningful to you and act in accordance with that, with intention and heart.
If authenticity is something you have to work at, then are you truly being authentic?
For many people, authenticity is not something that comes naturally in business. We’re often told “just be yourself” but many of us find that it’s not that easy.
There are many, many reasons why it can be hard to show up boldly and be who you are, or share what you believe:
- Maybe you were raised in a culture or a household where you were encouraged to “be nice” rather than say what you really think
- Perhaps you have a corporate background or trained in an industry where there were strict rules regarding the way you present yourself
- Maybe your field of expertise has unwritten rules about who has the right to speak, what opinions are valid and how things should be done
The truth is that many of us are so far removed from our true selves, or so used to playing by the rules, that we don’t actually know who we are or what it means to be our authentic selves.
To me, authenticity is not about flicking a switch and suddenly deciding to “be authentic”. It’s an ongoing process of peeling back the layers, discovering what we really care about, what we will take a stand for and what we want to be known for – and finding the courage to share that with others.
It’s about stepping deeper and deeper into yourself, and gradually breaking down the distinction between who you are and what you do.
And that takes time.
The first two or three or even five years of being in business is typically a time of working all of this out. We learn best by taking action, and through the process of putting words and images on a website, building your brand, creating content, going on Facebook live and showing up week after week to share your ideas, dive into topics you care about, share opinions that may be unpopular, express your point of view and make mistakes too, you refine your message and get closer and closer to bringing the real “you” into your work.
It takes courage and guts to show up online. It takes practice to work out what you want to say and then how to say it. And it takes time to step into your writing voice, share bravely from the heart and step into your authenticity at work.
If you’d like help to step deeper into yourself, refine your message and bring the real you into your work, I’m opening up spaces in the next round of my Luminaries programme. Click here to make a time to talk.