When you’re being yourself, you’re energized—because what you do and how you do it are aligned with who you are and what’s important to you. Sounds simple enough, but authenticity presents a lot of surprising challenges. For most of our lives, everyone around us (parents, teachers, bosses, friends) has been trying to make us into who they want us to be or who they think we should be. We’ve been falsely led to believe that we’ll be more successful if we wear a mask.
But when you’re clear about who you really are, what makes you stand out, and why you do what you do—and you have the courage to embrace that—you can live a life filled with joy and fulfillment while delivering value to those around you. And you’ll have a much more successful career, too!
Some executives who have committed to being their authentic selves at work are tempted to build a different version of themselves for the digital landscape. It’s easy to try to convince people of something that’s not true when they engage with you only in the two-dimensional world of the web. And it’s easy to be influenced by the highly curated, pristine personas some people create online. But building a persona that’s not authentic will work against you.
When you’re committed to building your online brand with authenticity and transparency, you gain some powerful benefits.
Create the Right First ImpressionYour first impression has moved online, thanks to a concept called Digital First. In my upcoming book, Digital YOU (ATD Press 2019), I talk about the personal branding impact of the move to all things digital. Your ability to build a powerful first impression that’s aligned with who you are in the real world is principal among the effects of going digital. When someone wants to check you out because your name is on the upcoming meeting’s attendee list, they’ll Google you . . . and what Google says about you becomes their first impression of you. And thanks to a cognitive bias called anchoring, it will be hard for them to change their mind about you.
Confirm Real-World ImpressionsSometimes it works in reverse: Someone meets you in real life and wants to learn more about you; when they check you out online, or they become a follower, friend, or connection, they’re expecting congruence with the person they met in the real world. If the “bits-and-bytes you” is different from the “flesh-and-bones you,” they’ll be skeptical. It will be harder to forge a deep relationship with them built on trust and transparency.
Attract the Right PeopleWhen you’re being yourself—your best self—in all your online communications and actions, you’ll attract the right people, especially decision makers and influencers who can help you reach your goals. The web provides an unparalleled opportunity for engaging with people from all over the world, but you’re wasting your time if you’re not connecting with the right people.
Be EnergizedAnne Morrow Lindbergh famously said, “The most exhausting thing you can be is inauthentic.” And it’s true. It takes a lot of energy to be an imposter. If you have to transform into the role of your online persona every time you engage online, you’ll wear yourself out. It’s much easier to always be the best version of yourself.
Avoid Getting Found OutThe music duo Milli Vanilli learned that you can fool people for only so long. They took the world by storm with their singing and dancing—they even won a Grammy for Best Artist. But eventually they were outed for lip-synching because, in fact, they couldn’t sing. Embellishing your accomplishments online and creating an artificially enhanced web profile can do major damage to your career these days, because what you post is easy to verify (or disprove), and it can become visible to far more people.
So how do you build an online profile that’s in line with who you really are? First, uncover the authentic you. Spend some time thinking about your responses to these questions:
- What are my non-negotiables—the important values on which I will not compromise?
- What do I do better than anyone else? What’s my superpower?
- What makes me stand out from everyone else who does what I do?
- What do people come to me for?
- Why do I do what I do? What’s my personal mission or purpose?
- Of what accomplishment am I most proud? Why?
Reflect on those questions to get clear on your authentic brand, then translate it for your online profiles and activities. In the end, take some advice from the witty Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.”