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The Role of Authenticity in Building Trust

Apr 6, 2020 | 12m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Why authenticity will help you to build implicit trust and credibility as a leader
  • How to speak to diverse audiences while staying true to your vision and values
  • How the Obama campaign team scaled trust even as they rapidly grew


Authenticity First

While we may believe that making important decisions involves a great deal of time and thought, in actuality, we make key – and often large – decisions very quickly. This is especially true when it comes to how we view people in leadership positions. When you see a candidate running for President, you likely already have an inherent sense of whether or not they’re worthy of your trust.

The limbic system in our brains is designed to quickly take measure of a person and decide if they indeed are who they say they are, and whether they’re passionate about what they claim to be passionate about. Before we rationalise our way to a decision, much of our minds and emotions have already made a choice. As a leader, you should live and breathe authenticity to inspire trust in people.

Whether you’re the leader of a team, the CEO, or a candidate running for presidency, you should know exactly who you are and what you want to contribute – your value proposition. Once you’re able to clearly answer those questions, other aspects of the organisation such as culture, content, or even online presence will flow from that clarity. If there’s disharmony in the most elemental of questions about a leader’s authenticity, ruptures will eventually surface. These ruptures will extend throughout the organisation.

Think of how many times you’ve seen business leaders or political candidates who clearly seem like they either don’t believe in what they’re selling, or are unsure about their stance because so much has pivoted in a short period of time. Ask yourself if there’s a constant, simple core truth as to who you are and what you represent. Write this down if it helps you. When you’ve established your core values, you’ll be able to communicate it more effectively to the rest of the organisation. On the flipside, inauthenticity at the top of the pyramid will also manifest across the rest of the organisation.

In fact, if you think back to the candidates who ran against Barack Obama – Hilary Clinton and Mitt Romney – both were unclear about their “whys” even halfway into the race. If you can’t answer that question at the very beginning of your journey as a leader, you shouldn’t be building an organisation, a team, or a brand just yet. This lack of clarity will not only cause too many cracks on the surface in the beginning, but will end up causing severe damage to the foundations of your organisation in the long run.

A simple way to get started is by clearly and explicitly sharing across the organisation why you’re doing what you do – your whys. Don’t simply begin a meeting by jumping straight into administrative items on the agenda. Instead, start by framing the discussion. State the purpose of the meeting upfront, and explain how your efforts are contributing to the larger goals of the organisation.

In the absence of that clear sense of why, that vacuum will be filled up by other people’s agendas. The last thing you want is to present yourself publicly as an organisation in an inconsistent way. You shouldn’t, for instance, be marketing change in one context and experience in another. Mixed messaging dilutes trust.

When a leader is seen to be changing tunes to suit their audience, it becomes difficult for people to trust what they’re saying. Yet in order to successfully connect with your audience, you should be adapting your message to suit their particular interests or needs. So how do you strike this balance?

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