Lately, businesses and business leaders have been using (and sometimes abusing) the words “authenticity” and “transparency.” These two buzz words pop up in mission statements and communication plans and are tossed around in speeches everywhere. It looks good on paper and sounds great in conversation, but (I apologize for the cliché) actions speak louder than words. Do those who utter the words really understand their true meanings?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, authenticity is defined as being “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact.” How does an individual, business or place earn the reputation of being authentic?
What makes a restaurant an “authentic restaurant”? What makes a leader an “authentic leader”? What makes a journalist an “authentic journalist”?
Unfortunately, everything in this world does not come with a certificate of authenticity.
Authenticity in the Media Environment
In today’s media landscape, citizen journalism is encouraged through blogs, Twitter and other social media. With the consumption of news increasingly shifting from traditional print media to digital media, authenticity and transparency often come into question, especially regarding the author.
Authenticity in the Political and Business Environments
Politicians and businesses have really embraced social media as a way to connect with their constituents on a more personal and “transparent” level. As consumers and constituents are bombarded with businesses and politicians vowing to be authentic and transparent in their messages and actions, they are becoming increasingly critical.
Authenticity Gone Wrong
Failed attempts to embrace authenticity or transparency can backfire and result in undesirable consequences. Just think of the unfortunate headlines we’ve seen in the past year: employees learning of layoffs from information leaked to third parties, corrupt politicians retracting promises made prior to their election, celebrities delivering scriptlike apologies and CEOs withholding information to avoid loss of customers and sales. Some of these scenarios have left many of us wondering: “Were they really sorry? Or, were they just sorry they got caught?”
There is no formula or formal process to achieve and maintain a positive image or a credible reputation. Authenticity cannot be bought or sold. It requires risk taking, smart decision-making and a willingness to listen. In my opinion, authenticity can be achieved through trust and transparency, a natural byproduct of honesty.
Now more than ever, journalists, bloggers and businesses must earn the trust of their audiences to successfully maintain authority and establish themselves as thought leaders and reliable resources. Too often, however, they assert “authenticity” or “transparency” as a means to achieve that trust. The buzz words are used as tactics to achieve a desired end, rather than as principles that they believe in and actually live by.
The concepts are simple. In fact, they are based on some of the basic rules that we’ve learned since kindergarten:
- Be yourself. Never change for others or try to be someone you are not.
- Do not say something unless you mean it.
- No one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes.
- Take ownership of your mistakes and learn from them.
- Stand for what you believe in. Stay true to your values.
- Be open, honest and willing to listen.
If everyone embraces these simple rules, there would be a lot less clamoring for “authenticity” and “transparency,” as our actions would be authentic in and of themselves.