What Does Authentic Feel Like?

When I hear the word ‘authentic’, I don’t think of a person. I think of a piece of furniture.

I think it comes from the fact I grew up in a fifth generation, 100 year-old home littered with antiques that each had its own story. When someone describes another as authentic or lists it as a leadership quality they aspire to embody, I hear an announcer’s voice ─ probably an auctioneer ─ saying something like: “And in this corner we have an Edwardian mahogany partners desk c.1910. Have a seat and feel what authentic feels like.”

Like many, I find the word a bit out of reach. Jesus was authentic. Buddha was authentic. Mother Theresa was authentic. That’s a bit daunting. I’m also a visual learner so it helps for me to experience something before it really sinks in.

Karen Kelloway with long time coach, MCC Siobhan Murphy at Conversation Among Masters 2013.

Earlier this Spring I enjoyed three days in conversation with master level coaches from around the world. We were at an invitation-only conference at a beautiful resort. For me, it was a complete awakening of what the word ‘authentic’ means. There were no titles. We weren’t there to network. From best selling authors, to founders of this program or that institution, the room was filled with coaches who showed up simply to be in conversation with others as a way of deepening their own learning and broadening their minds. I’ve never felt such genuine respect, trust and acceptance all in one room. I finally felt what authentic is.

If I could bottle this kind of authenticity for our collective work environments, I would. Wouldn’t it be amazing to work in an environment where we consistently feel valued, respected and acknowledged for our brilliance? Sadly I don’t have a bottle of this magical potion, so we have to do it the harder way, which means doing what we can on our own as individuals.

What does authentic feel like for you? If we go back to the example of why the Edwardian desk is described as authentic we might come up with adjectives like: pure, real, valuable, genuine, the real deal, solid, expert craftsmanship. If we drill down some more, we would identify which descriptors align with your own values and how you choose to be. Pick a descriptor that resonates for you.

What came alive for me in that conference was that authenticity happens in conversation. We know when a conversation is not authentic by our internal alignment detector I refer to in Step Two of my career advancement book, NAIL IT!® To begin to move more surely on the path to authenticity, start paying closer attention to your conversations. If you detect hidden agendas and more not being said then is being said, you can start to break through that by having a clear intention for being genuine, of value, etc. and stick with it. When you feel good at the end of a conversation, feel valued for your expertise or ‘craftsmanship’, feel there was a genuine exchange of ideas ─ you’re getting close. And I think that’s a better use of the word authentic then wasting it on a dusty old piece of furniture.

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