The Value of Authenticity

Original Spanish version published in El Comercio newspaper (Peru) on June 25, 2016

When my mother tried to teach us table manners, she used to say, as we came home from school and sat at the table for lunch, “when you’re at home eat like you’re with royalty, so that when you’re with royalty, you eat like you’re at home”. She said this every day and told us we needed to practice in order to make this practice second nature.

Of course, in those days, my mother was more concerned about teaching us manners than about focusing on our being ‘natural’ or authentic. All the same, I think that her message had a profound effect on us and was very clear: to act consistently with everyone, to act naturally in every situation, and treat everybody equally.

Nothing beats the ability to be natural and authentic in human relationships: it inspires trust, facilitates communication, strengthens relationships, and has a positive impact on our reputation. Career-wise, it paves the way to closing a deal, being hired when interviewed for a job, being considered for key leadership positions, and, above all, being worthy of respect and valued by others.

In the professional world, however, some people take their roles too seriously. They try to be “in character” 100 percent of the time and act as if the role was theirs alone, or even worse, as if they were the role itself, forgetting that a role only stands for the title, position, or commission that has been given to them –and is usually temporary.

Others set aside their sense of humor, their natural behavior, and their approachability when the role comes with power attached to it, and become distant or arrogant. Still others, impressed by those who have power, become excessively “nice” to win them over.

We can all read body language. But when someone hides their real personality behind a fake façade, we can tell they’re being phony and inauthentic. We cannot see the real person behind the role, and that leads to lack of trust. Actually, this behavior does nothing to generate empathy, much less trust, and it can also seriously damage your personal brand.

By contrast, being yourself, consistently, wherever you are and with whoever you’re with, and affording everyone the same respect and warmth, is an extremely powerful –and rare– strength that paves the way for trust, respect, and genuine affection. Authenticity is key to establishing real and positive relationships of trust.

Being authentic requires showing yourself as you really are. It requires checking your ego at the door and not looking down on anyone or anything. It requires courage and self-confidence, but also honesty and tact to “tell it like it is”. It requires reaching out, and even going as far as sharing our vulnerabilities, even if that sounds counterintuitive.

Authenticity is vital to authentic leadership and maintaining a good reputation and is the hallmark of those people we admire most: those who always act with integrity and live the same values in their personal and professional lives.

As my mother –who I still miss so much– used to say, to be authentic and natural, we must practice every day.

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