Live Authentically, Act Empathetically
Authenticity — I love this word. I was speaking to someone recently who said they believed it is getting dangerously close to being overused. While I agree that it has become popular of late to laud authenticity, there is no part of me that can reconcile that as a bad thing. We live in a world where people can typically control what aspects of their lives you see and how you see them. Social media — for better AND worse — has changed how we interact, how we see ourselves, and how we see others. We have this tendency to believe that everyone else is living these perfect lives: perfect photos, perfect activities, perfect kids and perfect food. Frankly, it makes sense. How many people are really going to (intentionally and non-ironically) post a photo of themselves with a giant toothpaste stain on their shirt?
This makes it even more important to be sure we are showing our authentic selves in our “real” lives. Humans, generally speaking, do not relate to perfection. We relate to people who have shared experiences. We connect with people who we perceive to have something in common with us. We relate to the person with the toothpaste stain because we have all been there. The power of authenticity is real. When people relate, they feel less alone and, as a result, they feel happier. From a business perspective, people do business with people they like and feel connected to. This is proven time and time again in research studies around management, sales and marketing.
Authentic Leadership and Emotional Intelligence
So what does it mean to be truly authentic? Authenticity is about honoring ourselves and our feelings so that we can give our best to others. It is about owning who we are and what we believe in. There is something comforting in knowing what you’re getting with someone (even if it’s not a positive thing); Not everyone is going to like you … wouldn’t you rather know it up front? It’s about being honest about who we are and where we’ve been. Most professionals have had a moment in their journey (many of us are having that moment right now) where we question our abilities and whether or not we are “enough.” Even the most put together, brilliant people have these moments. Every single one of us has experienced failure. When we are honest about that, people trust us more, and our willingness to share can help someone else deal with their own struggles.
Authentic leadership depends heavily on emotional intelligence or EQ. Emotional intelligence, for those unfamiliar, is the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, and use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goals. Basically, it’s about reading a room and reacting with appropriate empathy. To give of ourselves, we must be able to connect with others.
Authenticity Invites Authenticity
Authenticity and empathy are the currency of real human connection. To be truly authentic, we must take the time to know ourselves so that we can better express our true selves to others. To be truly empathetic, we must take the time to know others — their triggers and their motivations — so that we can better understand how they might feel in certain situations. The marriage of authenticity and empathy can transform teams, open up lines to improved communication, and empower those around us. When we are open and authentic, we invite others to do the same. This practice helps us build trust in our relationships, both personal and professional. Authenticity allows us to act more creatively and inspires incredible things.
Erica Lemp is the Executive Director of weVENTURE at Florida Institute of Technology’s Bisk College of Business. weVENTURE focuses on small business support and women’s empowerment. To learn more visit weVENTURE.fit.edu.