Merriam Websters word of the year for 2023 is authentic. it is one of the most searched words in the dictionary. Authentic is defined as “Not false or imitation. True to one’s own personality or character. Worthy of acceptance or belief as confirming to or based on fact.
I asked people “What does it mean to be authentic?” They aligned with the dictionary definition and added “to be honest, real, and who you were meant to be.”
What does it mean for a business and a leader to be authentic?
Being authentic in business and leadership means staying true to your values, being honest, and building real relationships. It’s about being transparent and responsible, caring for your customers, employees, and the planet. It’s not about short-term gains but long-term success and doing right by everyone involved.
Here are some key aspects of authenticity:
– Do what you do best and “stick to it!” Don’t try to be everything to everybody.
– Be dependable and consistent with your words, actions, and values. Be there when your customers need you, provide consistent service, and delivery of products.
– Be honest and have integrity in all interactions. Be transparent, tell the truth, and be gracious during the interaction.
– Build genuine relationships versus transactions by listening and paying attention to your customers.
– Admit mistakes, acknowledge, and take responsibility when they occur. Do your best to make it right.
– Be your best, even when the customer does not do the same.
– Focus on employee well-being. Create a positive work environment and show you care.
– Have a long-term focus versus short-term gains or quick profits. This builds trust and relationships.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Hoi An, Vietnam. This beautiful town is most noted for its night lanterns/wishing river, and tailors. I had the opportunity to experience both!
This story is about Luna, a tailor and shop owner. A woman whose character and business exemplify authenticity.
Luna went to school until the age of 14. She did not have a vocation and learned to be a seamstress from her mother. Today she has a shop creating handmade clothing with 10 employees. She works 12 hrs. a day, has a family, and a loyal following. She listens to her customers wants, needs, and desires, then creates and delivers the finished product the next day! When it needs to be “fixed,” she does whatever it takes.
I walked into her shop with the goal of creating handmade clothing “just for me.” Despite our communication challenges, she listened intently, described the clothing and fabric options, and patiently waited for me to make a decision. Luna made me feel like the most important person in the shop, even though other customers were present and desired attention. When I asked her opinion about my choices, she honestly and graciously provided feedback and said, “That is not my favorite. Instead consider this, I want you to be happy.” She created beautiful products, but when I tried on the clothing some needed altering. She fixed and even sent items to another town in Vietnam to await my arrival. You may be thinking, how did you know you would get what you paid for? I trusted her. I knew she was dependable and would do what she said, her interactions with all were consistent. She delivered the goods and followed up through text to ensure receipt, and that I was happy.
On my last night in Hoi An, Luna asked if she could take me to the studio to meet her employees. I enthusiastically said “yes!” We climbed on her scooter and rode through busy streets. The studio had much activity with a “Zenlike” feel. People were laying out and cutting fabric, sewing, and ironing clothing for customers. Sitting in the middle of the room was an 80-year-old woman, an “auntie”, who came to the studio each day with her daughter. Luna engaged her employees and honored them and their families. The result, they created beautiful products, happy customers, a “Wow” experience, and a thriving business.
I asked Luna if she ever had customers who were unhappy with their purchase. She said, “Sometimes people are unhappy with their choices, and I try to make it right. My reputation is important; you are my business. But, when people are so picky, not nice, and nothing pleases them, I thank them for their business, and refer them to others in the future. I have to do my best, even when they do not.”
Luna was authentic. She fulfilled my goal of creating handmade clothing. In return, I recommended her to many others. She sent messages during my trip, wishing me joy and thanking me for making a difference in her business and her life.
Luna’s authenticity enriched her business and left a lasting impact. Let her example inspire us to lead authentically in our own endeavors.
Authenticity is more than speaking; Authenticity is also about doing. Every decision we make says something about who we are.” Simon Sinek