I was recently asked to contribute a chapter to a book about finding business success. I felt honored to have my name printed alongside several brilliant businesswomen who had faced many of the same obstacles and challenges that I have as a business owner. I chose to write my chapter about authenticity in marketing. I gave my definition of the word ‘authenticity’, and explained how that ethos shapes everything I do while I steer my business. It got me thinking about being a woman in business, and how this role is both alike and different from my many other roles as a parent, spouse, and member of the community. Here are my thoughts for women on authenticity in business.
In business and in marketing, we’ve been taught to think that acknowledging any limitation is an act of surrender. As women, we are so conditioned to fight against constant underestimation and disrespect that we feel as though if we can’t do everything, we can’t do anything. Because we’ve always had to work harder to prove ourselves, we feel as though any weakness will be targeted and exploited, so we downplay and minimize them. But this isn’t the way to achieve true authenticity and true growth. Even if you have to wear your Superwoman cape in front of the rest of the world, you need to understand and own your limitations in your own mind so that you can grow beyond them.
In my experience, women step away from our authentic selves to be people pleasers. We promise the moon and the stars to our clients and families, and then struggle with doubt and guilt when we can’t be everything to everybody. In my opinion, THIS is our biggest obstacle—not our inability to be superheroes, but our expectation that only perfection is good enough, that nothing will ever fall through the cracks, and that we’ll do it all with a smile on our face and without showing a single drop of sweat.
I’ve been in business for years, and I can tell you—I don’t always get through my days with a smile on my face, and I never manage it without a drop of sweat. I can’t count how many late nights I’ve put in to meet impossible deadlines, just because it is so important to me that my clients know that they can rely on me, no matter what. This is how I express my truest self in business. Not by pretending that I have no limitations, but by being honest with myself and my clients about what I can do, and following through every time.
Authenticity isn’t just about being honest about your weaknesses, blind spots and limitations, but also truly embracing and acknowledging your strengths. Women can sometimes be pressured externally to minimize or downplay their strengths, and never to sing their own praises. We feel we must be the silent, unsung heroes, averting crises and nurturing prosperity without expecting a word of thanks. What I’ve learned is that you can’t succeed in business expecting to be either the hero or the martyr. There just isn’t room for that kind of ego or need for validation when you’re trying to get results for your clients or your superiors.
I’ll never forget the words of my great colleague and mentor, Chris Sutherland then of the Promotion Marketing Association of America (PMA) when I became Publisher of Brandweek magazine. Chris sent me a letter congratulating me on this great new job, and he wrote, “You can be a leader and feminine without sacrificing either.” That letter meant a great deal to me then, and it still does today.
Let’s embrace authenticity, not in surrender to our weaknesses, but in acknowledgement of our strengths. Make it a great day!
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