How do you confidently discover your natural, authentic self in your writing, leadership, and influence?
As writers, we call that finding our voice. If you own a business we call that your brand. In your ministry, team or tribe, maybe you refer to it as your leadership style. Brene Brown calls it the courage to show up truly as yourself — vulnerability.
Bottom line — it’s authenticity that inspires.
This concept first appeared in my life when I was fourteen, sprawled out on my bed surrounded by binders and lined paper, writing stories. The stories thrived with colour and poignancy in my imagination. I liked my serene and mischievous characters and thought it would be simple to transpose my imagination onto paper. Then I submitted a story to a magazine. Soon enough, my first rejection letter arrived. The editor was nice enough to send an explanation so I could hone my writing craft. She said that my characters were flat and I hadn’t found my writing voice, so my writing sounded lifeless and boring.
Eeesh! That was tough to hear but helpful. Except that I had no clue what that meant for me.
I spent the next 5 years pouring over how-to-write-better books. A couple years after that I signed up to be in a writers critque group, trying to understand how others saw my characters as flat and my writing as naive and lame. I paid close attention to their feedback, and add in something I valued. They told me my characters were too polished. I added in a bit of quirky humour and they said I was trying too hard.
Oh my gosh, what to do?
The thing is, they were right. The more I experienced in life, andthe more I read and analyzed other novels, the more I matured. The more I grew, the more I saw the depth and voice my writing lacked.
But recognizing that and actually letting my voice, values and style shine was a whole different matter.
“Real life” took over — namely, my day job. As an administrative assistant in a team passionate about changing our community, I didn’t realize I was discovering a new variation of this dilemma: how to be a 360 leader from where I was. Visionaries weren’t always ready to hear my detail-oriented mind at work. Community members often wanted to bypass information I could provide and just go straight to the top. Instead of taking it personally, I began to see it as a challenge to refine how I communicated with different positions and personalities so their goals could flourish.
Years later, a similar trend emerged as I began to shift my purpose coaching into the online world. Business coaches and marketing influences used different words, so I didn’t recognize it at first. They said I needed a brand. And a brand story. When I posted content on social media, they told me it was too deep and not conversational or expert-ish enough. I didn’t want to teach, sell or market; I wanted conversations, so I was confused. Sometimes long copy was cool; other times it was not. I couldn’t keep up.
I started feeling discouraged and lost. Trying to look like I had it all together online when apparently I had no clue what I was doing, exhausted me.
Like sunlight peeking through thick grey clouds, the rays authenticity began to shine.
By now you’ve got the idea. But just to be clear, here’s a reminder of a high cost in your leadership, writing and influence if you don’t know how to shine shining your true personality, values and style.
- Fewer people read what you put out there because fakeness, suspected agenda, blandness or confusion repels them. So it becomes invisible. SEO and hacking algorithms will only get you so far.
- Crickets sign up for your offers
- Others try to control and plan your life for you because they don’t hear your opinion above the noise and their own agendas.
- Low loyalty and ungained trust of faux fans let them disappear as soon they find a better offer
- Loss of visibility, low conversions, and little personal connection converge into stress and health decline. This drains your confidence and diminishes your hope and you dream.
So what are the steps to help you understand your voice, brand and style?
I’ve explored courses, books and online content on each one specifically. Here I’ve merged them together for whose impact flows seamlessly between each medium. This list is inspired by Jeff Goins’ blog post, 10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice.
1. Choose your adjectives
Describe in three words how you communicate or engage with others. Of course, you are many more than that. But narrowing it to three can be a filter for simplicity. My examples: I’m calm, encouraging and thought-provoking.
2. Check your congruency
When you write a blog post, make a live video or send an email, ask yourself, “Is this how I talk one-on-one with someone when I feel like my comfortable, lit-up self? Is this how I would say it in person?”
3. Know who you’re meant to lead/reach/inspire.
This is more personal than an ideal avatar list. Describe her in detail as one person — her nature, her communication preference. Then write/speak to her only. This is both hard and easy. It’s challenging because some aspects of your focus could be broad and you might feel like you’re leaving someone out. But it’s easy when you imagine sitting down for coffee with one person who has questions and you get to offer answers specific to their situation.
A practical exercise: If you explore your thoughts better by talking, you could record yourself as if you’re sharing your heart with that person. I experimented with dialogue expression of my voice in this post. If your thoughts come together better in written words, write an “I see you” letter directly to them in their situation. The clarity I’ve experienced with the latter exercise chokes me up every time.
By the way — to know whom you’re meant to serve, you’re going to have to listen deeply and pay attention to what they’re telling you. Who knew listening to serve them can do more to release your genuine voice than listening to serve your agenda?!
4. Shape your environment.
What three words describe how you want your tribe to feel reading and engaging with you? How do they need and want to feel when they’re around you? Example: I want the person I’m called to impact to feel inspired, hopeful and connected. Or: Let them feel clever, amused and curious.
5. Study your role models.
Name 3 authors, bloggers, leaders, podcasters or mentors whom you admire, follow and read. What do they have in common that you like? What do others like about them? How are they different than you?
6. Describe 3 defining experiences that have directly shaped who you are today
Each of us has events or experiences that shape our destiny. Our perspective, character and choices shift the trajectory of our lives. These stories are what your audience and followers remember. When artfully shared, it’s what captivates attention and builds trust. No one has your story — that in itself will stand out. And if those you lead can’t relate to your direct experience, they’ll probably related to the feelings and questions you encountered.
Examples to spark your story: What were you like before? What are you like now? How are you better for it? What did the process feel like?
7. Offer vulnerability as a gift
Do you feel sweaty or like throwing up before you hit publish, send or post? Good! That means you’re probably authentic rather than staying safe, polished and hidden. Go with it. Use courageous vulnerability as your strength. Base your confidence on who you are, not merely what you know or what you think they think of you.
If you’re too calm and collected, you’re probably not being courageously vulnerable enough. That’s fine in factual presentation and how-to articles. But most of us aren’t inspired or transformed by mere information; we want to be part of something bigger, something trustworthy. At some point, if I’m going to stick with a leader, I want to feel connected and know they’re human.
Yet, I don’t want to deal with their dirty laundry. If you’re too transparent and dramatic, it distracts and repels people. You’ll need to know your audience and followers to know the degree they need this from you.
Examples: Rachel Hollis is uncomfortably transparent with her humanity — and women flock to her message with the reassurance they aren’t alone and don’t have to be perfect. Michael Hyatt shares his vulnerability in measured bursts — a comfortable balance for the influencers he inspires.
Now, go be you.
Who you are now won’t be the same person you’re dream needs you to be next year. But I’m realizing growth and influences aren’t about perfection or a destination. So lead from where you are. Write and refine, and let others be inspired by the process. Grow into the person you want to be and invite others into the journey.
Which step will inspire your authentic voice this week?