How transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability are different. Why authenticity and vulnerability are your secret sauce, and how emotional transparency doesn’t always serve you.
About Jen McFarland, CEO, Women Conquer Business
Jen McFarland ditched her comfy C-suite tech project management job in pursuit of freedom. Jen’s goal is to help business leaders like you vet ideas, take ownership of their projects, and incorporate digital marketing from day one.
If growing your business feels like rocket science, let’s fix that with these free business resources.
Jen’s earlier blog post mentioned: Why Authenticity Attracts More Customers
- The Authenticity Paradox
- How We’re Often Transparent But Rarely Vulnerable
- Vulnerability, Authenticity, and Transparency: What Do These Words ACTUALLY MEAN?!
- Truth Will Out – Why Authenticity is the Key to Growing Your Business
- Why Authenticity is Crucial for Business Success
Transcription: Why Authenticity and Vulnerability Rock Your World
My name is Jen McFarland, I help business owners like you lead, plan and execute their projects for maximum impact. Women-led businesses receive less funding, yet our businesses are more successful. As consumers, we hold the purse strings. It’s time for us to take on the business world. Welcome to Women Conquer Business.
Hello, and welcome to Women Conquer Business. I’m Jen McFarland. I recently gave an interview on business and life conversations with Angela Henderson. It was really great. She asked me a question at the very end, what’s the most important thing that you’ve learned since starting your business?
And I’ll admit that I had a lot of different things just tumbling around in my brain because I think for all of us out there who run businesses who own businesses, there’s so many things that we’ve learned, so many mistakes that we have made and so many steps along the way that were like that really worked. And then other things that are like that really didn’t work. And so you kind of stockpile all of that. And I’ll be honest, when she asked me that, it was like, “I don’t know, I don’t know what the answer is to that.” And then I realized that I knew the answer all along. I said, “Authenticity.”
And I shared with her why, which is that when I first started my business, I was so focused on the things that I thought that I didn’t know, that I didn’t take the time to recognize the things that I already knew that were already so central to who I am as a human, just walking this earth I– when I started my business, I was accomplished I had achieved so much in the corporate world and yet I had never had my own business. And honestly, I had coaches that were not may be helpful in supporting the things I already knew. They were more concerned with minding the gaps, which may have something to do with retaining me as a client, and not saying you’ve already got all of these things going for you, maybe work on a few areas here, instead of putting my focus on all of the lack and all the things that I didn’t have.
And then I thought about a post that I wrote in 2018, which is why authenticity attracts more customers. In the post, I say that too many so-called business gurus claim to know what authenticity is about. They promise that once you find your authentic self, your business will blossom like cherry trees in spring. I think that that’s why there’s such a movement around leading with purpose and this authenticity, mindset. Authenticity is defined actually as worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to based on facts. So it actually means reproducing something that belongs to somebody else. It also means that it’s not false, or that you’re true to one’s personality into your spirit or character.
When I speak about authenticity, I’m talking about being true to one’s spirit, personality or character. When I started my business, I happened upon a lot of people whose definition of authenticity was about conforming to a particular belief, typically, there’s buying whatever they were selling. They wanted me to conform to what they were selling as a means of uncovering my authentic self. And this is why authenticity was one of the most important lessons I learned early on. See, authenticity in business is about finding your own way. It’s about understanding best practice, and going about it in a way that is true to your personality, spirit, or character.
See, true authenticity isn’t about being accepted. And it isn’t about copying an original. Or copying your coach, or copying another business, or guru, or mentor. True authenticity is about what you bring, about who you are, about your story.
That’s why when I’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs who are just starting out, and we look at their digital marketing and the steps that they can take to really advance their business– People care about who they’re doing business with when you’re small. Sometimes more than whatever it is that your offering. But it always has to be done authentically. It has to be your truth and your story. Not what you think people are going to want from you. Not what somebody else has told you who you are.
Because I don’t know about you, but I can sniff that out. I can find that. I can hear it and I can see it just as much as I can hear it or see it in myself when I say something and I’m like, “Wait. What? No. That’s somebody else’s stuff. That’s not my own [laughter].” Because once your story shines through, people will be able to relate to you. You have to ask yourself if you’re in business to conform or to flatter. Or if you’re in business to serve customers and make money. See, because your people are out there, but they want you. They want to know you. They want to know you’re authentic you.
Now, I was reading about this. I wanted to go beyond anything that I had written earlier. Because 2018 is a long time ago [laughter], and so many things can happen in the meantime. So I started thinking about authenticity and some of the things that we might confuse authenticity with. And I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review called The Authenticity Paradox. Because sometimes we think that when we’re being authentic, what we’re actually being is transparent.
And I think sometimes when we think we’re being vulnerable, it’s also being transparent. I’m not saying transparency is bad. But transparency can be very depositioning. I’m saying you can be authentic and talk about who you are and what you do, remain true to yourself without losing credibility and effectiveness.
And what the article talks about in The Authenticity Paradox, which is about how often times people who are thrust in new leadership positions– Which, honestly is really what new entrepreneurship is. It’s about being thrust into a new leadership position that maybe you’ve created for yourself. There’s a difference between authenticity and transparency.
And what happens a lot of times when people get thrown into the fire, they share the part of the fire that makes them look like they don’t know what they’re doing. In the corporate world, what that might be is standing in front of people and saying, “I really want to do this job. I’m a little scared, and I’m going to need your help.” Because what people want to see is that confidence.
What I’m saying is that’s transparency. You don’t have to share that part of you. The part that helps other people undermine you. That part that depositions you, and helps you feel better by being [authentic?] authentic about your emotions, but you’re losing credibility at the same time. You can be authentic without sharing everything that you’re thinking and feeling. And it makes a lot of sense. Right? You can totally do that. But it’s hard. Right? We want to feel like we can share anything with people. We want to feel like saying that we’re scared is part of our vulnerability. Right?
What I’m saying is you can still be you without letting people know transparently every emotion that you’re feeling all the time. Vulnerability is allowing ourselves to be seen for who we are. It needs practicing, gratitude, and experience and joy. Being grateful for what you have, and enjoying everything that’s around you that you already have.
I think at times I’ve talked about the problem with the word should. See, should takes us out of authenticity and vulnerability. Should is about living the way that other people want us to live. Should is about working with somebody on your business who is placing you in a different place. Who is wanting you to show up differently than you are.
Now, should is different. Things like tracking your accounting and things like that, yeah, those are things that you should do. But anybody who’s trying to tell you that you need to be different than who you are fundamentally as a person is asking you to let go of your own authenticity. Is asking you to let go of your vulnerability.
All I’m doing is asking you to not share every fear and concern with people who don’t know you that you potentially want to sell to. Because people want to work with someone who is confident. They want to work for someone who’s confident. You can decide not to share elements of who you are and still be a good person. Still be a good business person.
I’m asking you to consider being both vulnerable and authentic, and yet not as transparent about the emotions that make you seem like less than what you really are. Because you’re beautiful, and you can do anything that you put in front of you. But when we continue to talk about the things that we’re not, when we continue to talk about the emotions that we’re feeling behind what we are doing every time that we do something new, that’s what keeps us from achieving those higher goals. Those big things that we want to do.
It allows us to stay small. It allows us to stay safe in that place. And we say, “Oh, we’re doing it authentically.” Well, yeah [laughter]. But also, we’re keeping ourselves from reaching out and grasping that gold ring – whatever that is – because we’re living in the land of should. We share those emotions that are holding us back with other people, and we are allowing them to continue to hold us back.
I should lose weight. It’s really scary for me to be up here on this stage talking to you today because I don’t think I look as good as I should. And then you give the rest of the speech? These are the moments that I’m talking about.
There is a difference between authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability. Vulnerability is showing up and saying, “Here I am. I’m so grateful to be with you today. Here’s how I can help you. Here’s what I do. I do this better than anybody else.” And then what you leave at the door are all of those things that are scary to you or that you feel like you should be doing to make yourself the absolute best on the planet. Should keeps you small.
Authenticity allows you to grow and be big, and find the people who are looking for you. You don’t have to be transparent about everything to be authentic and vulnerable. Vulnerability isn’t sharing your life story with complete strangers. Vulnerability is saying, “Hey, look at me bra. Here I am. This is me.”
You see, I think we need to begin to ask more questions about the authenticity of the people around us. Particularly the people who are telling us what we should do, what we should be, what we should look like. And, instead, show up in service in authenticity, and be ourselves without sharing how scared we are. Without sharing the wishes, and hopes, and dreams of someone who doesn’t believe that they’re enough.
Because I’m here to tell you that you are enough. Just because you don’t believe that you’re enough today, doesn’t mean that you won’t believe that tomorrow. I’m holding out hope. Holding out hope for all of us in all of those areas that we don’t believe that we’re enough. That tomorrow we will begin to believe that we are the best and that we are enough.
But we have to stop telling everybody all of the things that are holding us back in ways that make us look like we don’t know what we’re doing. Because I think you know what you’re doing. So get out there and share it authentically, and your people will come. They will follow you. But you have to show up, and you have to be out there. And it doesn’t have to be completely transparent about every emotion that you’re feeling.
I love you.
And if this helps you, please share it with a friend.
Have a great day.
Hi! I’m Jen! I have over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience in leadership, strategic project planning, and digital marketing. Today, I am the founder of Women Conquer Business, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to helping women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community build sustainable businesses. I’m a frequent guest speaker and trainer. Get access to my free business growth accelerator and hang out with me on my weekly women in business podcast, Women Conquer Business.