Are you genuine or a copy? People Power - June 2017

By Sam Allman

I sat in awe. Though I do like to people-watch, rarely will I take time to do it. But there I was, gawking at all the goings-on at the Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy. I had just spoken to Kemp Harr about my next column, which was due before the end of our trip. As always, his suggestions were thought provoking. My observations and Kemp’s words reminded me again of the paradoxical nature of people power. We all want simple answers to handling our problems, running our businesses or parenting our children. But life is not that simple. What works today may not work tomorrow; what works with one child I can guarantee will not work with another. Situations, people and times change. Nothing is for sure; nothing is permanent; there is never a right answer. I believe that’s the meaning behind the maxim, “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

I sat in awe because I recognized how diverse our human species really is. Around me were humans of all shapes, sizes and colors. In all the chaos, I could identify some of the languages I heard, but most I did not recognize. Though most wore Western-culture clothing, some did not. I saw tattoos, various piercings and infinite hairstyles. We are, indeed, a highly varied species, even within the same race, even within the same culture, even within the same family. As I have said often, I have lots of children: one of each. 

My awe continued as I noticed people’s behavior. That’s when I was reminded of the paradox: we are very different but also very much the same. Everyone looked and sounded different, but they were doing very much the same things-taking pictures, eating gelato, laughing, holding hands, kissing and spending money. Most weren’t observing as I was, but were just enjoying the moment.

At the same time, there was another group of humans in the middle of the chaos-just as diverse and just as focused-trying to influence the ones enjoying the moment to buy something: a souvenir, a carriage ride, flowers or a meal. Some were great at sales, but most were simply good at pestering whoever would listen about their products and their low prices. The fact is, in all our diversity, humans want the same thing-to be liked, accepted, loved, to have a safe place to live, a way to provide for themselves and their families, a chance at the pursuit of happiness. Maybe that is what is encoded in our DNA, because on average, in terms of DNA sequence, humans are 99.5% similar. 

So, you ask, how do the similarity and diversity of human beings affect people power? What is the paradox about which we struggle? The answer: conformity and authenticity. Whether you know it or not, you have probably struggled with these bipolar principles. Using them both properly will enhance your ability to have influence. 

CONFORMITY SKILLS
Even in our early years, we all want to fit in. In order to be accepted, we needed to conform. Conforming means behaving with current customs, rules or styles. If we don’t conform, we might be bullied, shunned, ignored or, worst of all, excluded. As our self-esteem grows and we begin to understand ourselves, we test non-conformity by separating ourselves from the norms of society or of our parents. Though I never really became a hippy, many of my friends did. Ironically, they still conformed to their group. They conformed in their non-conformity.

Conforming is a very important people power skill. In order to influence someone as a leader or salesperson, you must first understand the most powerful law of influence: when people feel understood, they become more open to influence. That’s why empathy is the most important human relationship skill. You can’t just have empathy, you must be able to communicate it. Uncommunicated empathy has no value. The better you can communicate empathy to a customer or a constituent, the more influential you become. So how do you communicate empathy, other than listening intently and responding affirmatively? 

The answer is conforming. What do we do when meeting a potential customer for the first time? We find something in common. When we find we have something in common with someone, it creates a feeling that we understand. Commonness creates affinity, a natural attraction. We like and feel safe with people who are like us. The more we have in common, the safer we feel. 

To have people power with people who are different from us, we conform by mimicking their behavior. To begin, we must first observe how they differ from us. Then we can conform by speaking their language, using their words, abiding by their rules or customs, mirroring their body language and behavior. Basically, we become like, in as many ways as possible, the person we are trying to influence. Conforming is a psychological way to influence without using words. Sincerely trying to be like someone else creates affinity and rapport. It’s the highest form of respect. Americans often say, “I’m not going to change. They should be like me.” We should follow the old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” 

What do we risk when we conform? First, if it is done solely to manipulate or without sincerity, we risk losing trust. If our behavior brings into question our motives, there will be a holding back of complete trust by the other party, which diminishes our people power. Second, if we are constantly conforming, changing and adapting to others to get them to like or accept us, we risk our authenticity. No one trusts wishy-washy people. Consider the politician who is always changing their stand on an issue for political expediency.

THE VALUE OF AUTHENTICITY
Authenticity is a people power characteristic because it breeds trust. It is a reliance or confidence in the integrity, ability or intention of another. Authentic people are consistent. We learn exactly what we can expect from them. There is innate integrity because there is a correspondence between their words and their deeds. It is the state of being genuine or being real. A person who is genuine is not a copy or a fake. He or she is the “real thing.” One aspect of authenticity is being yourself. It’s living your own life. It’s learning about yourself: your strengths, weaknesses, preferences and inborn talents. Life is meant to be a journey-a quest of self-discovery. Who am I? Where do I want to go? Why? Your ultimate quest: find your purpose. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “If you know the why, you can live any how.”

When you follow your passions, listen to your inner signals, recognize your preferences and stay firm to your values, you will begin to live authentically. When you do that and are also transparent with others, your people power swells exponentially. As you become more like yourself and less like anyone else, others recognize your uniqueness. That uniqueness can become very valuable to you financially. Uniqueness that others value creates a competitive advantage in selling, competing for a job and standing out from a crowd. When you are authentic, you differentiate yourself from the masses. Differentiation is the most critical marketing skill and a master selling skill. Communicating your uniqueness is how you make yourself a brand. 

Today, there is a deep interest in authentic leadership due to social upheavals. People are longing for trustworthy leaders, leaders who serve the common good. In my mind, that was the biggest question in the last election: who can we trust? 

Authentic leadership goes beyond just being you. It demands more. “Authenticity requires that you commit to wholehearted attentiveness, genuine concern and creative curiosity rather than politics, evasiveness, spite, manipulation, dominance or entitlement,” says Dr. Louis Tartaglia. Authentic leaders have a genuine desire to serve others. They understand their purpose; build and maintain trusting relationships; identify and stay firm to their personal values; are disciplined not to be tossed to and fro by political expediency; and care about people, so they act from the heart. An authentic leader’s behavior is grounded in positive psychological qualities and strong ethics. There are four key skills that authentic leaders develop: self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency. All skills can be developed and learned.

Self-awareness is the key to personal change. The world is full of clueless people. They have no clue how their behavior affects everyone around them. They are always looking for someone to blame. Self-awareness erases cluelessness. No one changes unless they see the need to change and decide to be responsible for changing. Reflecting often on one’s life illuminates one’s heart and mind with self-awareness. Reflection upon critical life events, be they positive or negative, acts as a catalyst for personal change. Self-awareness leads to an internalized moral perspective. It’s a self-regulatory process using internal moral standards to guide behavior. 

Authentic leaders have the ability to analyze information objectively and explore other people’s opinions before making a decision. As I discussed in my last column, there is power in humility; it takes strength for a person with power to admit ignorance or fallibility. Smart people surround themselves with smarter people and then listen and consider their responses. 

The final skill that authentic leaders develop is transparency. They strive to be open and honest in presenting their true self to others, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach. How easy is it to admit personal weakness, ignorance and personal foibles? It takes real ego-strength to be transparent. I think that’s what Shakespeare had in mind when he said, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

The risk in authenticity is that some people will not like or accept you. If you are only concerned with fitting in and being liked, then you need only conform. Conforming is important in order to succeed with people of different cultures, personality styles and buying styles. However, if you conform and lose your perceived identity, you risk undermining your personal sense of harmony. 

Being authentic is hard. It takes reflection, personal change, work, self-discipline, integrity, altruism, optimism, resilience, confidence and a strong moral compass. I guess that’s why authentic people and leaders are so rare. But authentic leaders fulfill society’s expressed need for trustworthy leadership. They fill voids in an uncertain world that is starving for people and leaders to trust. 

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus