Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Power of Authentic People

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Seth Godin wrote an interesting article, The Scarcity Shortage, where he wrote in part, "So what's scarce now? Respect. Honesty. Good judgment. Long-term relationships that lead to trust."

I'd like to add to that, "authenticity and integrity." A person who genuinely cares about the needs and wants of others are going to increase their "likeability factor" several notches higher. It is this person who will succeed because they recognize that it is human nature to feel good when someone else is genuinely interested in them first.

There's nothing wrong with getting what you want. In fact, ever since you were born, you've been in a perpetual state of wanting something for yourself. It's human nature but the secret is giving what others want FIRST before you get yours. And in my view, authentic people know exactly how to do that.

Just what constitutes an "authentic person"?

1. Great Listening Skills: Everyone, regardless of who they are, want to be acknowledged, appreciated and loved. People want to feel important and respected. How do you give them that? Well, when you are in a conversation with another person, are you truly focusing 100% of your attention on what the person is saying? Or is your brain formulating something to say at the next possible opportunity? Or are your eyes roaming the room, wondering who else just walked in the room? An authentic person's attention is razor sharp, enabling the listener to see the other person's point of view.

2. Fair and Just Treatment of Others: When carrying out your role, regardless of whether it be a mother, business executive, pilot, waitress, teacher or coach, to name a few, you are always dealing with other people. The biggest secret is how you treat them. Do you treat others with respect or are you condescending, especially if they screwed up? I once read a very interesting account of something that happened to famed aerobatic air show pilot, Bob Hoover. He was well known for purposefully shutting down both engines of his plane in various configurations and heights, always landing safely.

One day he was performing at an airshow when 300 feet above the ground, both engines unexpectedly quit. He immediately knew the plane had been misfueled and who had done it. Upon finding the quivering line boy, what did Bob Hoover do? In the eyes of everyone else, he had every right to angrily eschew the line boy because it could have cost his life. Instead, he put his arms around the tear streaked kid and said, "To show you I'm sure you'll never do this again, I want you to service my F-51 tomorrow." Imagine that! That's one truly authentic man because rather than belittling the young kid, he approached it from the point of view of respect and love. Do you think the line boy forever learned his lesson? You decide.

3. Having Integrity: Everyone wants something. But authentic people are conscious of the operative watchword: integrity. They will do the ethical thing even if it means a loss of personal benefits for themselves. Consider a doctor at a major hospital who advises the parent of a small boy (I saw this in a movie but can't remember the name of it), to have major, life-threatening surgery. After much research, the mother learned of a non-invasive treatment available at another hospital several miles away and vigorously sought for his release. The doctor refused, telling the mother she had to go through several legal hurdles for that to happen. One of them involved bringing in another qualified physician from the outside to come in and sign a written statement testifying to the validity of the other treatment. Even though the mother satisfied that requirement, the treating physician refused to budge and fought like crazy to keep the boy there. Eventually, he relented. It turned out that the alternative treatment ended up saving the boy's life. A truly authentic doctor would have seen that possibility rather than blindly serving his hospital's and ultimately his own needs.

4. Ability to Communicate: Growing up deaf made me acutely aware of the importance of communication. I was often left out because I was not always in a position to catch what other people were saying. This often resulted in me being the last to learn about something everyone else already knew about. I hated nothing more than the feeling of being left out in the cold. As a result, I grew up very sensitive to how others might feel in a similar situation, regardless of whether they were hearing impaired or not. Because of that, I make every attempt to keep people in the loop whenever necessary. Business leaders who conscientiously communicate in the open, especially when there is a lot of uncertainty hovering over the future of their employees, end up earning tremendous amount of trust. Rather than hiding behind the cloak of their boardrooms, they step up to the plate and keep people informed as much as possible. Everyone from the top down knows what is going on and are therefore in a position to make informed decisions. Authentic people make themselves valuable because they care enough to keep others in the loop.

5. Willingness to Show Transparency: Public speakers who aren't afraid to stand up on stage and speak from the heart, showing their childlike enthusiasm rather than presenting themselves as flawless packages, often win the hearts of their audiences because it makes them real, just like them. Authentic speakers go into a speaking engagement with the attitude of "I am grateful all these people are spending time with me and I will give them a reason to laugh, cry and otherwise enjoy themselves without worrying how I look." Inauthentic speakers will say, "Well, there's a bunch of jerks out there, I'll just get in there, get it over with and fool them senselessly with my appearance of great success." Speakers who are willing to be transparent win the love and respect of their audiences.

Food for thought: Authentic people make more friends in two weeks by becoming interested in other people than in 2 months by trying to get other people interested in them!
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