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Get Real and Get Ahead: Five Steps to Professional Authenticity

Believe it or not, authenticity is one of the cornerstones of success. Being authentic means being honest and genuine, which in turn engenders trust and accountability. People respond to people who feel “real” to them. Nobody likes a phony, and people get nervous and mistrustful when they can’t “read” a person. If people read you as authentic, they will trust you, value you, and look to you for leadership and guidance.
Authenticity is about how you conduct yourself, how you treat others, and the way you work and fit in to your corporate culture. It’s not about being nicey-nice or insincere; it’s about being real. Authenticity entails an emotional equation of:
Confidence + Self-awareness + Transparency + Consistency = Authenticity
In other words, authenticity is about establishing and showing an honest and consistent alignment between your personality, your words, and your actions. Much like other personal and professional skills, authenticity can be developed. Here are five ways to develop your authenticity:
1. Be honest. This does not mean you can be rude or disrespectful. You can be honest and still be respectful, diplomatic, and professional. The key is to express yourself well and use kind, constructive, and inclusive language. Here is where verbal skills like using “and” instead of “but” come into play; anytime you use “but” you risk alienating and making people feel defensive. Try to use inclusive, constructive words instead of negative ones. This isn’t being false; it’s framing the discussion in a forward-thinking way.
2. Engage other people. In order to be authentic, you have to care about more than just yourself, so it is important to engage other people. Look people in the eye when you speak to them. Ask questions. Practice reflective listening. Really listen to what they tell you. Resist the temptation to talk about yourself.
3. Treat everyone with respect. Treating other people well is the surest sign of someone who is confident, collected, and genuine. Be gracious, polite, and respectful to everyone, from the janitor to the vice president, from the secretaries to the baristas, from your co-workers to the garage attendants.
4. Test yourself. Becoming more aware of your self, how you operate in the world, how you behave, and how you impact people is the key to using your authentic self in business. A good way to learn about yourself is to take a personality test like the Meyers-Briggs. That test and others like it are an excellent tool for self-awareness, as long as you get the proper training around the assessment. Make sure a professional is able to go over the results with you so you can understand and use the information properly.
5. Look at others. Studying traits of successful but authentic business people is also a good way to understand what being real looks like. For example, here are three very different authentic leaders: Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, and Donald Trump. They each approach life and work very differently, yet you can tell that they are all passionate about what they do. They are consistent in their words, deeds, and ambitions. They are not apologetic about who they are and they integrate their personal qualities into their work life, personal life, and leadership.
Being authentic means you are honest and real. It means you are trusted and counted on. And it can mean all the difference in your success at work and in business.

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