You might wonder what authenticity has to do with starting or growing a business? Authenticity creates trust. And investors have to trust you to give you money. Employees have to trust you to even hire on in the first place and then follow your lead. It will probably even be hard to get started if people don’t trust you. Would you co-found a company with someone you don’t trust?
It might sound easy to be authentic but it isn’t. Authenticity means making visible both your strengths and your weaknesses. It means being vulnerable by being truthful about who you really are. It means doing and saying what you truly believe.
In this social media era, we are used to showing a “cropped” view of ourselves, cultivating a persona that contains a seed of truth but doesn’t reveal the whole picture. As I heard one student say “Facebook is me on my best day.” This is fine for social media. Everyone knows it’s a slanted view. But in a startup, when you are spending so much of your life together, the “real” you becomes visible. It’s difficult to keep up a facade 24/7 and takes a lot of energy that could be better used on your business.
This in no way means you can be unskilled in your interactions though. Being authentic isn’t an excuse to be rude, judgmental or disregard verbal discipline. It is doing the work to know your own truth and then skillfully bringing it into the conversation, activity and culture of your company.
An old friend recently confided that he never felt “like himself” at work. He started his career when the norm was to play a role at work that didn’t necessarily reflect who you were. You had to fit into the corporate world and that meant leaving much of yourself at home. It wasn’t about authenticity, it was about conforming. Luckily, times have changed. In today’s world, authenticity is a key.
But it’s hard to be authentic if you don’t know what’s true for you. So spend some time with yourself. Be brutally honest. Get to know how you think and feel deep down inside yourself. Explore your internal landscape. If you find this difficult, get some feedback from others. They will be able to identify where you are being authentic, or not and why they do or don’t trust you. Especially those who don’t like you so much- they won’t hesitate to tell you the tough truth.
And it’s worth the effort. Not only will you cultivate trust and bring more of yourself into the workplace, you’ll be happier.
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