My husband is wonderful in many ways but one of the things I admire about him most is that he has this great ability – to be himself. Uncompromisingly himself in any situation and people love him for it. Whereas I have always felt the need to adjust, adapt and ultimately to be the best version of myself whatever the situation needs. One of my connections on Twitter described it as ‘oranges, not peaches’, the idea of disparate segments rather than being a whole fruit which is an analogy that I love.
Brene Brown says of authenticity:
‘Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are’, ‘it is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice — a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen’.
Recently I was working on the design of a leadership course and I started to think about the people over the years that really inspired me. Not necessarily people I’d seen in the news or on the internet, but real people in my real life who I’d found inspirational. Without exception, those people inspired me because they were real.
They knew who they were and were able, to be honest, and even in some cases vulnerable about that. For me, authenticity in business is important because it allows you to share not just your weaknesses, but also your strengths and your quirks. It allows for real, personal connections not just at a superficial level and ultimately it can protect you from aiming too much for perfection or experiencing burnout.
So if authenticity is a conscious choice, as Brene says, then how can I− and how can you − achieve it?
Give up on being perfect
Naturally, we all want to be the best we can be, and I think aiming for that is important for your personal growth. The problem with perfection is that it’s impossible. Holding yourself up to that will mean either disappointment or pressure, neither of which will do you any good. From an outside perspective as well, we don’t trust people who seem to slick, too polished or too perfect. They seem to be following their own agenda.
Connect at a personal level
Don’t just make idle small talk. Ask questions about things that matter to the other person, and be willing to share things about yourself. You’ll be surprised at how much richer the conversations become and how your working relationships improve if you allow yourself to step outside of conversations about the weather. That said, you don’t have to share everything with everyone.
Understand your values
Individuals and the companies we work for all have values. Sometimes taking some time to reflect on what these really are, what’s important to you, and what the beliefs are that drive you can help you to identify the times where you’re not being completely true to yourself. You can then make a choice about whether you want to change your behaviour.
Be more self-aware
Notice when you’re being inauthentic. Think about the situations you are in and what you feel like during them, think about what causes that. Also notice how you feel when you’re being completely genuine, whether it’s with friends and family or with certain people in business already. Becoming aware of how you feel when you act in different ways will help to keep you on track.
For me I am just at the start of my journey, but I’d be interested to hear from those of you who know people who are able to balance the company needs with the need to be themselves. I’d also love any tips you have. You can share them with me on twitter at @helblythe.
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