It was a teeny bit embarrassing. I had just kicked off one of the most important negotiations of my career. I was brand new in the COO role for my company, and one of my first assignments was a contract negotiation that pretty much could make-or-break the company.
And I had no clue what to do.
I remember sitting down with the senior executive from the other company. He was a very nice gentleman, but clearly someone that had decades more experience than I had.
Without much thought, I blurted out, “So, what’s important to you in this negotiation?”
Surprisingly (probably to both of us), he kind of spilled his guts and let me quickly know where his main pressure-point was. And then he turned the question back to me.
“What’s most important to you in all this?”
When out of my mouth poured (in probably one big run-on sentence), “Well our financials are struggling and if I can negotiate this deal without a price increase I’ll have a good shot at becoming the next CEO. And I really want to become the next CEO…”
My immediate inner dialogue was something like this, “WTF Erin! Why can’t you learn to frickin’ just hold sh*t in sometimes? Why do you have to always just tell it like it is?!”
Fast forward several months later: we completed the negotiation. And we had a highly successful outcome. Why? Well, because my counterpart was human…and he largely pushed the deal through because he too wanted to see me get the job I wanted.
It was in that moment that I realized: authenticity isn’t just some passive, woo-woo thing. I realized I could use authenticity as my secret weapon.
So armed with that experience, and loads of other stories and examples, I became obsessed with the concept of authenticity in the workplace. Could this one single strategy be the reason I had such big success, all without feeling like I had to sell out?
I decided I needed to teach others to do the same. But how in the hell do you do that with a concept that is inherently so personal?
But it’s not. Authenticity is a much richer, more nuanced concept. And the good news is that it’s also something I believe can absolutely be taught, learned, and used by anyone that’s done with the same BS at work and is open to finding a new way…a new playbook.
After much research, reflection, and obsession, I put a framework to it all. I call it the 6 Principles of Strategic Authenticity. It’s conveniently anchored by the acronym, H.U.M.A.N.S.
Humility: It’s about purposefully being humble. Using humility as a “speed pass” to connecting with others.
Unexpected: It’s about being a bit unexpected. Saying and doing things that are fresh and new. This builds mystery, curiosity, and followership.
Model: It’s about modeling the behavior and actions you want people to be and do. Essentially, it’s about shutting up…and instead, showing up.
Adapt: It’s about adapting to others. Plugging into other people’s authenticity. And it’s about adapting your own authenticity as well (that’s called “growth.”)
Narrate: It’s about ditching facts and data. And instead, narrating your conversations. Taking people on a journey by telling them stories.
Spark: Finally, it’s about sparking others to also be more authentic too. Inspiration is a circular reference. And you are a part of it.
These six key principles aren’t simply what helped me in my career, these are the things that people exhibit that make you pause and go “Ahhhh, they are so authentic!”
I encourage you to start thinking about authenticity less as a permission and more as a superpower that helps you better connect with other people. Those connections aren’t just nice to have, they then lead to better results.
When I negotiated that deal, I could have strategized and played games. But instead, I used the power of authenticity to get to a better outcome, without feeling like I had to play a game I did not want to play.
You too can use your authenticity as your new career secret weapon. Experiment, get curious…just try one of the six principles and watch what happens. I promise, before you know it you’ll be addicted to authenticity. I know I am.
Erin Hatzikostas is a former corporate CEO turned Professional Pot-stirrer. In her book, “You Do You(ish)” she helps people toss aside the crusty, decades-old career playbook that they’ve heard a million times – network, sponsorship, lean-in, etc. – and instead inspires them to use authenticity as their new playbook. Erin also recently did a TEDx Talk, “Why you don’t have to compromise for your career” that is set to release in early January. She’s the founder of b Authentic inc and a career coach, a podcast cohost, mother of two, and someone who’s not afraid to dance in public.