You might have heard the mantra “Fake it until you make it.” It expresses the idea that you should embody a confidence or persona that you might not actually possess. And I disagree with it.
I’ve gotten into trouble for being too honest in my career and in life, but I don’t regret not “faking it.” I believe authenticity is one of the best assets we can have. Thought leaders especially are in a position where they need to build connections with their audiences. Authenticity and consistency are vital to this.
Honesty means getting personal
Sometimes it’s better to keep quiet and not be so brutally honest. In some situations, especially in a professional environment, you might want to avoid getting into your personal life too. While there are moments when you should have clear boundaries, there are also moments when you should feel comfortable sharing things about yourself. Coming from a writing background, I see personal experiences as a way to connect with others, which is essential in thought leadership.
Confiding about your own life is more personal than sharing facts about people whom you’ve never met or spoken to. When I use my father as an example and tell stories about him, it feels more real and authentic than if I were to use someone distant and unrelated to me, like Albert Einstein. People can better connect with what I’m saying and see that it hits closer to home for me.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
It’s okay to own your mistakes. Nobody is right all the time. When you talk about past errors or struggles, analyze them and share what you’ve learned; this shows personal growth.
When people read these experiences, they can see themselves in them and notice similar patterns in their own lives. They might understand your challenges and find wisdom in the lessons you’re imparting. When you reveal personal stories, it shows that you’re honest and gives people a chance to connect with you. This connection leads to trust.
Consistency is key
Even the smallest fibs in your storytelling can harm your credibility. When you have so much going on, it can be difficult to remember every tiny lie you tell. This will lead to inconsistency in your stories, and if you’re telling a different story each time, people will wonder what’s true and what’s not. Audiences and readers tend not to buy into sources that are unreliable.
When you’re being truthful, you will always be consistent. Your story will stay the same, and you won’t have to keep up with lies that add up over time. Even if people can’t handle your honesty, they will likely be pleased to know that they’re always going to get the truth from you.
Strong communication is important when you’re a leader
Thought leaders need to know how to inspire their audiences and add value to others’ lives. Credibility is essential to your voice. If you’re inconsistent in the things you say and embody a persona that’s not sincere, people will catch on, and it will only harm the relationship you have with your audience.
When you’re in a position where you lead others, it’s essential to have strong communication skills and build rapport. Being honest helps build trust. Once that’s established, people will be more likely to hear what you have to say. And if they relate to your words and stories, this creates a connection that can help you and your brand stand out as memorable and reliable. “Faking it” can temporarily win people over, but authenticity and consistency keep them around.
Reenita Malhotra Hora ’93 is the CEO of Chapter by Episode Productions, an immersive storytelling app. Throughout her career, she has employed storytelling, creative marketing and business strategy to grow organizations from startups to medium-sized businesses. A published author, Reeny holds a Masters in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, where she lived and worked for many years. This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur, where she is a regular contributor. You can follow Reeny on LinkedIn and Twitter.