Authentic (a.k.a. Heartfelt) vs. Inauthentic (a.k.a. Heart Less*) Storytelling
Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 1:19PM
Mark Goulston

Authentic = Being emotionally in touch with a story that serves the higher purpose of inspiring others to do and be more than they thought they could do or be

Inauthentic = Being emotionally in touch with selling and motivating others to serve your personal agenda by getting them to buy your products and services

There has been much written about the power of storytelling to make your points and drive business. But too many of those stories are not effective if the person telling them has a personal sales agenda that the story is serving.  You may be able to lure a decent amount of low hanging and non-discerning fruit into your trap, but to the highly discerning, your attempt to coat your agenda with an alluring tale will be all too transparent.

I recently gave a presentation to a group of CEO's where I was told that I received all 10 ratings (a first for me) and after which I was told that the aftereffects are still reverberating.

Central to the presentation was my sharing a story of someone who stepped in and possibly saved my life and transformed me from an edgy, sarcastic cynic into someone who has felt compelled to "pay forward" that person's kindness. (BTW if you Register as a member of Heartfelt Leadership and Login and click the Connect tab and then click on "Member Resources" you will gain access to an exclusive article from the 30th Anniversary Issue of Leadership Excellence entitled: "Daring to Care - Build a Heartfelt Company" that will give you the entire program that I presented to the CEO's that you can use).

I then had these CEO's do the same at their respective tables.  It was as if everyone was channeling Sheryl Sandberg and "leaning in" to the conversations they heard.

As I watched the participants flex their entire beings into the conversations I had an epiphany regarding the difference between authentic and inauthentic storytelling, since as mentioned above there is much out in the business world about utilizing the power of storytelling to make your points.

Whenever someone is authentically sharing a story that emotionally touches them with the purpose of inspiring others, they are not selling, manuevering or manipulating others.  When that happens, and people feel free of being sold, people lower their guards and lean into the authenticity and vulnerability.  I think people do that because deep inside many of the transactional human doings that we have become is an ache to come from a deeper emotionally based human being inside us. 

When however someone is telling a rehearsed story whose main purpose is to sell, the people listening may tilt their head approvingly and even sometimes do so with a smile if the story is entertaining, but rarely will they give you any part of themselves that resides below the neck (including writing a check).

I have also noticed that many highly transactional people seem unable to tell an authentic story that feels genuine and real.  I think there are a couple of reasons for their not doing so.  First, their agenda of selling and closing new business (or upselling to existing business) occupies too much of their mind. Second, and on a deeper level, highly transactional people seem unable to give up the control necessary to get in touch with their feelings and be authentic.  In their minds, any loss of control equates to being out of control and that is something they defend and even rail against.  What they don't realize is that daring to be genuine and vulnerable doesn't put them at risk; rather it makes them more accessible and relatable.

If you need an example of this, you need look no further than the recent Presidential Election where Romney lost much more than Obama won, because Romney just didn't seem like someone that voters could connect to.

* Heart Less = Serving a sales driving, "close more business" or "drive more results" agenda; it doesn't mean being "heartless" as in cruel or ruthless.

Article originally appeared on Heartfelt Leadership (
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