Why Authenticity Is a Key Ingredient to Entrepreneurial Success, and How to Make Sure You Have It
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"I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I've become." -- Oprah Winfrey
Early in her career, Oprah Winfrey was an evening news reporter at Baltimore network, WJZ-TV. But, she found it hard to emotionally detach herself from the subjects of her stories and was soon fired from the news beat.
Related: 10 Qualities of Authentic People
Rather than pay out the remainder of her contract, the network moved her to daytime TV. The rest is history. As a talk show host, Oprah's authenticity became an asset and the key to unlocking her success as an entrepreneur.
I've always run my business and led my team as authentically as possible. It's not easy, as being authentic is as much about revealing your flaws as playing to your strengths. It's often tempting to put up a front of total competence rather than risk looking vulnerable.
But, I believe that authenticity is a key ingredient in running a successful business and leading a great team. These six tips will help ensure you're keeping it real as an authentic entrepreneur.
1. Love what you do.
This may seem obvious, but too often people start a business for the wrong reasons. In 2005, I was struggling to find a healthy drink option for myself and my family that wasn't just boring old water. To solve the problem, I developed my own tasty beverage with no sweeteners. After realizing that others faced the same challenge, and that I was passionate about helping those people, I turned my personal solution into a business.
Lots of successful startups result from the founders solving a personal problem. Their passion for the solution helps them share their story in an authentic way that engages audiences. That said, not every passion translates to a business. Just because you found something you really care about in your personal life does not mean you'd enjoy it as a form of income, so do a gut check and see how you feel when you think about living and breathing that passion as your life's work.
When you genuinely love what you -- even if that's a passion for marketing or business process -- you will create sustainable connections with investors, suppliers and customers.
2. Hire authentic people.
Though my company has grown a lot over the past decade, I remain involved in every new hire. I need to ensure that any potential employee doesn't just have the skills we need, they must genuinely love our brand and the idea of healthy living.
For me, passion trumps experience every time. Authentic people do more than just fulfill a job description. Their passion for our brand shines through everything they do and makes them more likely to stick around for the long term. Surround yourself with authentic people and your business will have no trouble keeping it real.
3. Acknowledge your weaknesses.
When Mark Zuckerberg was growing Facebook, he realized that his undoubted tech skills were not enough to grow the business. He decided to bring in an experienced chief operating officer and chose Sheryl Sandberg because he saw that she was stronger than him in many different areas.
Populist politics may suggest that the myth of the strongman still resonates. But, in business, the infallible leader is an old-fashioned idea. Being open about your weak points demonstrates an authenticity that people will relate to, while asking for help empowers them to take the lead.
4. Talk to everyone.
After Alan Mulally became CEO at Ford, he was told that executives don't talk to factory employees. Disregarding this convention, he became a fixture on the factory floor, building an authentic relationship with his employees. When the time came to make much-needed wage cuts, Mulally received widespread support across the business, which helped turn the company around and save thousands of jobs.
Like Mulally, I love getting to know everyone at my company and understanding the challenges they face to develop great new products and keep our customers happy. As an authentic entrepreneur and leader, you need to make time for everyone, especially those on the front line.
5. Make authentic customer connections.
In addition to being on supermarket shelves, my company sells directly to customers on our website. This helps us develop an authentic relationship with many of our biggest fans. I also attend many health and wellness events where I meet people in our target audience and hear what they genuinely want and need.
Use every means possible to open up genuine channels of communication with your target market. For example, I love how sustainable fashion brand Everlane talks to customers about new collections and builds brand loyalty via a private Instagram account.
Harvard Business Review's in-depth study of effective leaders concluded that there is no "cookie cutter leader." Every great leader and entrepreneur they examined brings a unique combination of attributes to the table.
If there's a key ingredient to becoming a successful entrepreneur, it's simply, like Oprah: Be yourself.
Related Video: Gary Vaynerchuk: To Be Authentic, Be Consistent