Authenticity is one of the foremost buzz words in the personal branding world. It means being true to yourself and those around you by displaying the real you, instead of managing your image. Image management is about constant manipulation to position yourself as favorable in various situations. My feelings are that in the short-term you may be successful by being someone that you are not and people do get away with it. If you are looking for a long-term career and life success strategy, you MUST be authentic.
Present the real you, the one that doesn’t wear a mask.
When you discover your brand, you should be proud of who you are and what value you can contribute to others. The real you, doesn’t need to hide behind a cubicle or a blog. You need to become visible to be mentioned or thought of in people’s evoked set.
An evoked set is a grouping of the top of mind brands in a certain category. Without that visibility, you will have to waste precious hours in proactive “cold call” pitches to clients or management. When conducting business or in personal situations, you are faced with the major obstacle of saving face versus remaining authentic. I’ve been pondering for the past few months.
Sometimes you are faced with situations that call for abrasive or non-intrusive actions. If your manager asks you to perform a task that you deem to be a mistake or something that you shouldn’t be involved in, then you must resort to making a decision. If you’ve seen the movie Dogma, then you probably remember that there is a devil and an angel side to everyone. The angel does the right thing, while the devil is a trouble maker.
- Option A (Devil): I want to please my manager, so I will do absolutely anything in my power to accomplish the task asked of me. I want to get a bonus, raise, promotion or attention from him or her, so I feel that by listening and initiating a course of action of his or her request will help me reach that goal. Even if this goes against my best judgment, I know I have to do it to survive in this job.
- Option B (Angel): This project doesn’t make sense from an operational perspective nor for my current position. I simply don’t have time, the expertise or confidence to make this happen. My brand and that of the company will take a hit if I accept this project. I will tell my manager that I will pass.
This may also happen with your social life. Say your talking to a member of the opposite sex and want to impress them. If you tell them your superman, but your really Clark Kent, then you aren’t being authentic. In this way, you are managing your image to appear as “a good catch” or someone worthy of their time. Lying may get you a few more dates, but if you ever make it to a relationship, then the truth will come out.
- Option A (Devil): For work, I run my own business, with 30 employees and gross $1 million in revenue each year from my house. On weekends I go to nightclubs with VIP access and have drinks with some hometown celebrities.
- Option B (Angel): I work at a small advertising firm, where I’m involved in creative design and execution. On weekends, I tend to go to movies and go to nearby bars.
Option A sounds better, but the perceived expectations will increase, as well as your failure to take the conversation much further.
“Brown-nosing” / “Kissing-up”
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t nodded their head, smiled or said “great idea” to a person they may not like or disagree with in one way or another. Are we not being authentic if we are purposely agreeing with someone, when we want to disagree? What if being nice to this person will help your career? Everyone has fell victim to the idea of “brown-nosing” because they are forced into a situation where they must be considerate in order to be stable. I think you have to be careful who you talk to.
On one hand, your audience may enjoy an argument or another point of view, while on the other, they may fire you based on your stance on a topic. A lot of this is about “ego.” You can damage someone’s ego or you can pat it on the back. This is based on the person you are speaking with and their status level in an organization. If you want to be authentic in every situation, it might get you in trouble, but if you don’t it might too.
Ethics and Remaining Authentic
I’ve had a few friends that have been asked to do things that are unethical by managers. If the “ask” goes against your brand and what you stand for, then I would say to back away from it. Don’t let anyone force you to do something you don’t think it ethical. Business ethics are really important these days and firms, such as Enron, have been put out of business due to bad practice. The last thing you want to do is to portray your personal brand as unethical. If for some reason, you value compensation over ethics, then at some point you will be caught and won’t be able to get another job.
To be ethical means learning how to say “no.”