In my recent powerful interview with personal development guru Larry Winget, one of the topics we discussed was authenticity. We all have different phases of our careers, as well as multiple opportunities to step back and examine our level of professional (and personal) authenticity. It might be a little difficult at first to comprehend the impact that authenticity can have on the growth of your business, but trust me, it’s massive.
Larry’s journey began as a sales representative for AT&T. His sales career with AT&T was cut short when his department shut down. This forced him to do something else, so he went into sales training. However, he couldn’t help but feel that what he was doing simply wasn’t helping him become the person he wanted to be. In an attempt to move closer to his authentic self, he went into motivational speaking, which still didn’t feel just right. After some soul searching, his message and purpose evolved into what it is today: There is sacrifice in success, and you have to stop doing the things that are holding you back.
Larry found being brutally honest is the best way to help people, and the approach that truly spoke to who he is at the core. Once he started delivering his authentic message, he began to gain celebrity status, speaking for hundreds of Fortune 500 companies, writing six New York Times bestselling books, and appearing on multiple TV shows and commercials. I guess you could say people respond well to authenticity.
I’m using Larry as an example because discussing this topic in our interview made me rethink the concept of being authentic and the ways it shows up in both business and life. To simplify, I’ve broken the idea of authenticity into three aspects: you, your leadership and your marketing.
1. You: Authenticity is about being genuine and true to yourself, essentially doing things in alignment with who you are and what feels right. Does your role in your company feel right? Are you fulfilled? Or, do you feel antsy, like something is missing or off? If the latter sounds more like you, it’s time to really think about who you are, what your talents are and how you can better serve your company with your unique talents. Sometimes this means delegation, role shifting, hiring a new team member or even finding a business partner who has different, yet complementary, strengths.
Now, don’t get me wrong; just because you are being authentic doesn’t mean everything is going to feel perfect all the time. You can still be working in your unique talents and not absolutely loving every single task you perform or every interaction you have throughout the day. Being in alignment is more of an overall sense that you are doing things in a way that lines up with your beliefs and who you are as a person at the core.
2. Your leadership: Authenticity isn’t just about you. It’s how you connect with others. It’s the way you portray yourself to others and the relationships you develop based on this portrayal. From a leadership standpoint, your team members want to know who you are so they know what to expect on a daily basis as well as what you expect of them. People also respect authentic leaders who have a genuine vision for their companies. Don’t be afraid to be a passionate leader with a clear long-term vision; leadership shouldn’t be an act, it should be a strategic representation of who you really are. Think about leaders such as Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and Jack Welch. They built massive empires while being true to who they are and empowering their team members. When you are authentic, it gives everyone on your team permission to be who they are and not squash their uniqueness. This leads to happier, more fulfilled team members, which is a huge factor in increasing retention and loyalty over the long term.
A major misconception among leaders across all industries is that everyone has to be a specific type of leader (autocratic, democratic, transactional, visionary, etc.). This way of thinking puts you into a predefined box when most people are actually a combination of leadership types.
To be an authentic leader, you simply need to portray specific characteristics, such as being ethical, truthful, genuine, aware and open. And really, isn’t that also what we want from our team members? Authenticity creates a connection with your team members in an honest way, which builds trust and respect. It also helps you to build a team of people who share your values and positively communicate your brand and message to the world. As I’ve said before, every person in your company is his or her own unique reflection of your brand, which leads me to the next aspect of authenticity: your marketing.
3. Your marketing: From a marketing standpoint, you need to examine the message you are putting out to your community. Are you saying generic things you think people want to hear, or are you telling clients (and team members) what makes you different in an authentic way? Is your brand and marketing communicating who you want to be as a company? Your clients and potential clients want to know who you are as a company. When you stop hiding behind a façade and start putting out an authentic message, people will respond positively. In our world where reality TV isn’t real, photos are airbrushed, and it’s hard to know what to believe, people and businesses that are actually real can have a huge competitive advantage.
Authentic marketing helps current and prospective clients connect to your company on a deeper level; it helps them emotionally link to who you are, which helps them want to do business with you. When developing your marketing messages, think about why you got into business in the first place, your purpose, and the impact you want to have on your community, customers and team members. This is how you stand out in the sea of sameness.
Do you think Steve Jobs understood how to use authenticity in marketing? He encouraged people to “Think Different,” and that’s just what they did about Apple’s products, its brand and what’s possible. Here is one of my favorite quotes of his, because I couldn’t have said it better: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Just as my interview with Larry helped inspire me to think about authenticity in a different light, I hope you take some time today to really look at how the three aspects (you, your leadership and your marketing) are affecting your business and life right now. The more you communicate who you are and what your company represents, the more people will be drawn to your business.
The more honest and authentic you can be with yourself and your team members, the better leader you become. The better leader you become, the more clearly and consistently your brand and messaging will be communicated. The better your honest message is put into your community, the more loyal clients you will have. The connection is undeniable; authenticity translates into increased profits and improved quality of life for you and your family.