Part One of Chapter Four of The Power of Authentic Leadership
Jeff Goins’s talent for writing and willingness to be himself has had a significant impact on my life, and now he’ll touch yours as well if you haven’t already come across him and his work. After exchanging a few emails over the years, I was lucky and blessed enough to connect with him over the phone, interviewing him for this book. Our conversation was a lot of fun, filled with enlightening gems of insights. Jeff is one of the top bloggers in the world for a reason – he’s smart, genuine, and puts into action what he knows.
Be Authentic In a Way That Helps Others
Right off the bat, I asked Jeff about his take on the true meaning of authenticity.
“People throw the word ‘authenticity’ around as a euphemism for oversharing,” Jeff said. “Some of my friends overshare and word vomit.”
Jeff is all for being your authentic and vulnerable self – what he’s saying here is to share yourself strategically and with purpose. Say what you truly mean and use your words carefully. Don’t ever hold back and make sure to be who you truly are, but don’t “word vomit” by randomly sharing whatever comes to your mind without thinking it through.
I went through some extreme challenges in high school and during my senior year, I emotionally hit absolute rock bottom. I was seriously depressed and didn’t know if I could go on with my life because I didn’t have the tools needed to deal with the unexpected setbacks I was experiencing. When I’m doing keynote speeches to high schools, colleges, and certain kinds of conferences and associations, I share this story openly, honestly, and authentically. The point is I share it with a purpose after thinking through what I want to say and how I want to say it. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your dark moments if you do it for the right reasons, in the right way, at the right time, and with the purpose of helping others. Make sure to think it through ahead of time.
“I’ve read a lot of your blog posts,” I said. “One of my favorites is when you shared how you suck at life. You said in the post how you sometimes have a hard time staying on top of everything, and you let an email from one of your friends accidentally slip through the cracks. These are challenges many people, including myself, struggle with, and your authenticity was through the roof. I loved how open you were and I really related to how you were feeling during those struggles. What are your thoughts on someone sharing their mistakes with the world, with the purpose of other people benefiting from the lessons learned?”
“Your ego tells you to hide and keep lying to yourself,” Jeff said. “The key is to be honest with the world once that self-awareness comes. Authenticity equals self-awareness plus sharing. Share in a way that is helpful to other people. And always be interested in growing as a person.”
Self-awareness truly is of paramount of importance, as it not only allows you to recognize your shortcomings, but also to share those shortcomings with others in the right way.
“I got beat up in high school for being short, pudgy, and not particularly athletic,” Jeff said. “I couldn’t bench one-hundred pounds. The more you share those kinds of things in ways people can trust, the more they will like you. If they like and trust you, you can lead them. They will be called to take action if what you said compels them enough.
“With my family, one of the best things I can do with my kids is to not lie to them. We don’t pretend mommy and daddy are better than we really are. For example, if I yelled at my kids, I will tell them I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m really sorry. This is much better than making it seem like the rules don’t apply to you.”
A lot of people speak down to their kids, making it seem like their kids are not their equal. Jeff’s genius and authentic persona stems from his ability to be his true self with his family, kids, and everyone else he encounters in life. Jeff is a great role model and example for us all. Being authentic is not about being perfect. It’s about admitting when we’re wrong and owning up to our mistakes.
This is incredibly powerful and a great way to end this section. If you are feeling uneasy, don’t view it as a negative – view it as a signpost, pointing you back to your true self:
- If you are feeling uneasy about a choice or decision, it may be time to reconsider the choice or decision and make a change if necessary.
- If you are feeling uneasy about being in a relationship, it may mean the relationship is not right for you – or, at the very least, it is time to confront your partner about what you are feeling uneasy about.
- If you are feeling generally uneasy about your day-to-day life, it may mean you are not managing your time well and making the most of each day. It also may mean you are not living your life according to your own values and ethical standards. Further, it may mean you are living someone else’s life and not your own life. Is it time for a career change? Is it time to move to a new geographical location? Is it time to start meeting new people? When you use uneasiness to your benefit, you use it as the motivating force to make real, sustained, and long-lasting change in your life.
Instead of fearing your uneasiness, use it as a signpost to lead yourself to bigger and better things. And as amazing as all of that was, this is only the tip of the iceberg of what Jeff is offering us. Let’s go deeper.
Choose to See Through Fake People
“My wife and I sometimes invite people over for dinner,” Jeff said. “My wife told me once, after a dinner we had, how a guy we had over wasn’t genuine. My wife said to me, He’s a jerk! My wife explained how he was overconfident and egotistical. Overconfidence is a form of insecurity, and I can see it. I pick up on when people are like that. People can be fake.”
I love Jeff’s input here, as I can’t stand fake people. I’m not perfect, but I always do my best to be as authentic and real as possible. My friends often tell me that I am the most real person they know. Leadership is about living your message, so I say this to point out that I’m actively applying everything we’re discussing throughout the book with these experts.
An example of how I actively eliminated fake friends from my life is I permanently deleted my Facebook account. I then created a new Facebook account where I consciously became Facebook friends with authentic people. I do sometimes accept friends requests from people I haven’t met in-person, but only if their Facebook profile is legitimate and they are someone I actually want to be connected to. When you are around fake people, both in real life and in the social media world, overconfidence and egotism becomes the norm.
Here’s one of the main messages of this book: what has become normal in society is not normal. It’s not normal to be fake. It’s not normal to put on a false front and be someone you are not, out of fear or one of the many other reasons people feel the need to not truly be themselves. I say this respectfully: there are countless people on this planet who are fake. They surround themselves with fake people and then call their inauthenticity “normal”. That’s why Jeff’s input is so refreshing, and our conversation was both fun and rewarding. I resonate with him in the innermost depths of who I am as a human being. This content has value to you when you apply it in your life. When you see through fake people and then choose to steer clear of them, you give yourself space to be who you really are. It also gives you an opportunity to get around people who are better suited for you. Leaders like Jeff see through fake people.
Seeing through fake people is a skill and habit that can be developed over time through practice. This is something I used to be bad at, and I’m much better at it now. But I’m staying humble and wary, because the moment you think you’re free of fake people, you get stabbed in the back. People also love to use you for your money. This is NOT being cynical, as there are a lot of good people in this world. It’s simply being aware of the possibility of inauthenticity in others so you can more easily navigate around it.
Jeff’s Big Turning Point
“You’re very successful and one of the top bloggers in the world,” I said. “Was there a specific turning point for you?”
“When I was going through school, I was insecure and unsure of myself,” Jeff said. “I was bullied a lot. At that age I was SO impressionable. People will say stuff about you and if you choose to believe that, it can become true. When you’re insecure, it’s easy to let someone else’s opinion become your own.”
I was also very insecure when I was younger, so I’m connecting with Jeff here big-time.
“There was this really popular guy in my high school,” Jeff said. “He played sports, got good grades, got the girls, he had it all. My freshman year, this guy died at the age of 15 of a heart attack. I was at a small rural school with three-hundred people, and the most untouchable kid in the school randomly died.
“It shook everyone up, including myself. When this popular kid died it made me realize how fragile life is, and that it doesn’t matter if you are cool or not cool.”
This ties into what Evan Carmichael was telling us earlier about how it doesn’t matter how you’re perceived by others. I’ve always tended to care too much about how people perceive me, so Evan and Jeff are helping me tremendously. I hope you’re getting as much out of these words as I am.
“After the most popular kid in my school died, I went from being shy to being outgoing,” Jeff continued. “I started to go bowling with people, initiating and masterminding the details behind bowling outings. I made meetups happen with people and I reached out. Three or four people would call me and ask what we’re doing this weekend. One night, five people called me. I became the leader and people were looking to me for their plans.”
I have a similar story in that I also used to be incredibly shy. After someone who I thought to be my friend told me in an unkind way I didn’t talk to anyone, I reinvented myself and ended up becoming one of the most popular kids in my middle school. Popularity doesn’t matter, but the moral behind the story is that you can use frustrating, challenging, and/or tragic moments as springboards to reinvent yourself and become the person you were meant to be.
One of the keys to Jeff’s turnaround in school is that he started to reach out and initiate things. You can’t wait for things to happen – you must make them happen. Shyness is a mask that hides your true self. When Jeff and I became more outgoing, we stayed true to the core of who we were while deciding to talk to more people. Reinventing yourself involves implementing different behaviors and actions, but it doesn’t change the core of who you are. Instead, reinventing yourself is a creative way to step into your true nature.
“I always wanted to be the extrovert,” Jeff said, “but I was judged as a chubby red-haired kid and I let that become my reality. When the popular kid died, I said to myself screw this, I’m going to be whoever I want to be.”
Jeff just hit on an incredibly important point, deceptively simple yet incredibly powerful: being an authentic leader starts with a firm, inner decision. It’s mind over matter. Your turning point can come at any moment and at any time, if you choose for it to be so. There’s no need to wait any longer in order to change for the better. Why not make your turning point now?
Rewire Yourself With a Firm Inner Decision
To give you an example from my own life, let me provide a few more details from what I mentioned a few paragraphs ago about myself. I’m sharing this to help you with your own process. My supposed friend in Middle School, who I shared many classes with and hung out with outside of school, didn’t invite me to one of his parties. He invited many people I knew and I felt disappointed that he didn’t feel the need to invite me.
In a moment of courage, I asked him why he didn’t invite me.
“You don’t talk to anyone,” my fake friend said to me. “So there was no point in inviting you.”
As a shy and sensitive kid with very few friends at that time, I was devastated. I went home and balled my eyes out to my dad, and my dad was supportive. That evening, while in my room, I made a firm, inner decision to become outgoing. The process of forcing myself out of my shy ways was long and arduous, with a lot of mistakes and awkward practice along the way, but I slowly became more outgoing over time. Although no one ever taught me how to properly socialize, I taught myself. I realized being outgoing is a learnable skill.
The point is changing your life doesn’t necessarily have to come down to writing down lots of different goals, joining a ten-step program, or following a predetermined course of action (though for the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those options if they work for you). Changing your life often comes down to a firm, resolute, inner decision – a promise to yourself – that you resolutely stand by. Of course there will always be ups and downs, progress and setbacks, but when your desire to change comes from the deepest part of who you are, you can literally shift the patterns and outcomes of your daily life.
I’ve been studying neuroscience and psychology for more than two decades, and I’ve interviewed many of the top minds in the field. The most exciting discovery from this research and experience is that you can rewire your brain through repeated actions. You can rewire the way you think, act, and behave through practice. This is not motivation. This is science.
What one new action will you take tomorrow to start rewiring yourself? And what behavior will you continue to enact on a daily basis over time?
Jeff Davis is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, and leadership expert. Learn more about authentic leadership in his book The Power of Authentic Leadership: Activating the 13 Keys to Achieving Prosperity Through Authenticity.