One of the mantras espoused by the so-called gurus is that authenticity is the key to grow your influence. While this is not necessarily false, I think the mantra lacks definition, and when defined, exposes an inherent difficulty that is often overlooked.
While I would never condone being anything but authentic, and I do believe in this day and age you only gain influence if you are willing to show yourself as you are, authenticity can also be the reason your influence caps off. Allow me to explain.
Note: I apologize for strongly correlating “influence” with successful social relationships. It’s Dale Carnegie’s fault.
Most people that affirm the mantra think about influence/authenticity as almost directly proportional. If we could graph it, it would look somewhat like this:
Again, as they see it, the closer you are to acting and speaking 100% honestly, according to who you are, your influence skyrockets in proportion.
Now here is the one element that the masses tend to forget: People are more likely to follow and admire others that share similarities with them. Not exactly like them, but common traits do help people stick together better. People who like Lost don’t necessarily follow Kabuki-geeks. Kids that are Justin Bieber freaks don’t exactly look forward to the next Wynton Marsalis seminar. And in each of these examples, at least as far as our times go, the prior group grossly outweighs the latter one in popularity.
In this other graph, I’ll assume that everyone is authentic in their expressions and conduct, and I’m replacing the horizontal axis with the level of any character trait. By that I mean, the answer to “from 1 to 100, how ____ are you?” or “from 1 to 100, how much do you like _______?”.
In my opinion, if the average person would respond “+/- 50″, the graph would look like this:
The way I see it, your influence will peak at wherever your character trait coincides with the majority of folks. The person that is authentically at the yellow dot (roughly 50%) will enjoy much more influence than those at the green and blue dots. Those that after sincere consideration realize they’re at those points will find that their ability to influence others will be capped.
This poses an interesting problem for those seeking to gain influence, and who acknowledge themselves as being in the green or blue dots, or anywhere in between. Should they compromise authenticity in order to gain influence? Or should they rest satisfied with the max level of influence they will attain where they’re at?
Put in more simple terms: Should you sincerely make yourself more like the average person in order to gain their attention?
This is a question I’ve had to deal with seriously in the past decade. Laser-quick bio: I was born in N.Y., at age 7 dropped in the Dominican Republic hardly knowing any Spanish, and then “immigrated” back to the U.S. 10 years ago, having to then “re-learn” English and the U.S. way. I did not only become bilingual, but also what I call “bi-cultural”, meaning that I am culturally neitherAmerican nor Dominican, but some weird mixture in between. I can shift easily between my two cultures, but I can’t remain on any side for too long. That is my authentic self.
Now naturally, in many aspects I find myself right where I placed those blue and green dots, and I’ve had to wrestle with the temptation to conform to the majority surrounding me, given that I don’t easily “fit”, if you know what I mean. For example, I’m terrible with slang, I can’t pick up sarcasm easily, etc..
Now, I’m sure that although you may not have a crazy cross-cultural story in your background, most of you find yourselves in similar situations, at least in some aspect or other. (Bright lights, maybe in the end I AM catering to the sentiment of the majority! 😉 )
I don’t want to make this post longer than it already is, so I’ll close by saying this: I’ve reached peace with being authentically myself, and letting the whole influence thing work itself out organically; however, it’s very clear to me that by being authentically who I am, I limit my reach towards certain population and cultural segments. Then again, could other segments be easier to reach because they can “tell” people who are sincere?
What do you think about this? Do you think this is a real issue? If so, how have you dealt with it?