This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

AuthenticityIt’s not unusual for a conversation about authenticity to come up in our workshops on trusted advisorship and trust-based selling—in the face of encouragement to be real, questions arise like, “How much is too much?” “Can I really be myself? Should I?

All great questions, without one simple answer.

This very conversation came up recently with a group of super-smart engineers and scientists whose clients are often very senior-level government people, including some of the highest-ranking military leaders in the United States.

One participant chimed in passionately because our discussion reminded him of someone who used to consult with one of his clients, a Navy Admiral. This other guy’s regular attire included a ball cap and an earring.

“Here’s the thing,” said my workshop participant, with a tinge of wonder, “The Admiral loved him.”

[Tweet “#Keepitreal while also being respectful—that’s how one consultant wearing a ball cap and earring built #trust with an Admiral.”]

This led to a lengthy discussion—as is often the case with super-smart engineers and scientists—about why. What was it about this guy? Was he effective because he was different, and stood out? (And if so, what does that mean for me if I’m more of a suit person?) Why didn’t the Admiral interpret it as disrespect?

Here’s what we finally concluded: his shtick worked not because it was different, but because it was authentic. He wore the attire that was most comfortable for him. (In other words, it wasn’t a shtick). He didn’t flaunt his clothing choice in an in-your-face way that said, “I don’t respect your authority”; he wore his accessories quietly in a way that said, “This is who I am, Sir.” Integrity was his motivation, not irreverence. And his interactions were consistent with that message: he was real while also being respectful.

In short, Ball-Cap-and-Earring-Guy was simply being himself, which had the curious effect of making the Admiral more comfortable being himself.

This strikes me as the ideal we’re all striving for: being us in a way that honors and serves others.

Make It Real

Look around your life for people who have a particular (and effective) way of expressing themselves. What can you learn? How might you be more of you?

Learn More

Read aTAfieldbookbout the difference between honesty and authenticity, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or see how primed you are for partnership in Chapter 7 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.



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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).