I usually hear people talk about authenticity in business in terms of being real or genuine in corporate dealings and personal interactions. I certainly don't want to dispute or diminish the importance of being real, but I also don't feel the need to contribute another entry into the already massive body of work on this subject. Instead of being real, I invite you to consider authenticity as being whole.
So what does it mean to be whole? It means all the parts of something are connected and working together towards a governing purpose. It's where we get the word “wholesome”, a synonym for healthy. Healthy things have parts that work as a whole, in concert rather than conflict. In fact, the majority of the most serious diseases a person can contract are so dangerous because they trick certain parts and systems of the body into working against others.
This analogy is important because the competitive and profit-driven nature of much of the business world makes it easy to feel like you (or your business) might need to act like something you're really not in order to succeed. The problem is that every time you pretend (which is where the word “pretentious” comes from, by the way) like this, it's like you're dividing yourself in two—the real part and the fake part.
It might seem at first like having a fake or false face to put on sometimes serves your business or your bottom line. After all, even if you can't fool all the people all the time, at least you can fool some of the people some of the time, right? But whatever you use to draw people in, that's what you'll have to use to keep them. If the fake you brought them in (as a client, an employee, etc.), you'll have to keep being fake to keep them. Over time, you'll notice that doing so produces a stress and tension that keeps you from pushing forward in the real areas you want to grow in. It's hard to remember what strategies to use to maintain each person's perceptions of you. The real and fake parts will work against each other.
In other words, fakeness is so dangerous because it sabotages wholeness. And the loss of wholeness isn't just bad for you personally. It's also bad for the bottom line because it drains the energy you were meant to use to fulfill your true mission into things that are tangential and unimportant.
At this point, a good writer, having convinced the reader of the validity and importance of the problem just described, should go on to offer a compelling solution. Let me honestly say instead that I have not solved this problem. In fact, I feel a bit pretentious even writing about authenticity in business when so much of my time and effort has been spent in keeping myself out of the business world entirely! But wholeness is wholeness and health is health. The things I've found that help make me healthy as a person have also helped me in business. I would bet they can do the same for you. The applications to your own situation are not for me to tell you but for you to ponder and find out. Consider these steps toward wholeness:
1. Know your value.
Although your parents came together to make you, no person on this earth designed you, so no one here has authority to comment on your specific calling and mission, or how well you may or may not be living up to it. Your God-given mission and worth far transcend any person's opinion of you or any financial statement. The more you realize that your value is independent from any other person or asset, the more you will be free from the urge to be fake and fragmented. You won't have to manage how people are perceiving you. Instead, you will be free to devote your energy to the things that really matter to you.
2. Watch your words.
Although I believe it's true that actions are the loudest, don't make the mistake of thinking that words don't speak at all. In fact, if your words and actions line up consistently, what you say will begin to attain a similar volume level. That alignment between words and actions is often called integrity. Integrity is just another word for wholeness, like an integer is a whole number, not a fraction. Even if actions are louder, if your words are headed in the opposite direction, they will still bring the un-health of division by taking a significant fraction of the impact you might have had with them.
That being said, don't be afraid of the impact of words. If you are consistently as honest with the truth you perceive when it's positive as you are when it's negative, people will be more likely to hear you in both cases. They will know that you are real and that you're on their side. Only sharing one side of the truth is not wholeness, and it will work against you.
3. Take your time.
Put another way, don't confuse shooting from the hip with authenticity. Being genuine does not mean vocalizing every single thought or feeling that pops into your mind. Just consider how differently you often feel about situations a day later (or even a few hours or minutes later)! Which feeling is closer to who you really are? Which one gives you a better chance to react in line with your vision and purpose and thereby stay whole? Don't accidentally work against yourself by responding too quickly.
Finally, be patient with yourself as well. Just because you authentically aren't some certain thing right now doesn't mean you never will be. Be honest about where you are, but put in the effort to change and mature where you need to in order to fulfill your governing purpose. The whole, complete you is not static—it will grow and expand if you give it time and don't pretend to arrive before you actually do. Along the way, you'll feel the peace and strength of wholeness as you work to build your life and your business.
Ben Barnhart is a freelance writer and editor from Cleveland, Ohio. He has a passion for helping writers unleash their own unique voices in written form, and he also enjoys wrestling words into submission on his own in the gaps between his work and being a husband and dad. His writing is inspired by faith in a big God, the elusive beauty of the outside world, and the natural music of conversation.