Thursday, July 9, 2009

Are You An Authentic Entrepreneur?

"The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of man, is to be born with a bias to some pursuit which finds him in employment and happiness"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Finding and living in alignment with the inner purpose is the foundation for fulfilling your outer purpose. It is the basis for true success. Without that alignment, you can still achieve certain things through effort, struggle, determination and sheer hard work or cunning. But there is no joy in such an endeavor, and it invariably ends in some form of suffering".
- Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

"Think of your life as a house, with a bedroom for your personal life, a study for your professional life, a family room for your family, and a living room to share with your friends. Can you knock down the walls between these rooms and be the same person in each of them?"
- Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean, and Diana Mayer, Harvard Business Review

Living in alignment with your purpose is something that has been discussed by philosophers in the past and spiritual teachers today. Interestingly, this ideal is finding its way in business as well. Many successful entrepreneurs like Bill George (former CEO of Medtronics), Tami Simon (Founder of Sounds True), and John Mackie (CEO of Whole Foods) are beginning to describe an emerging business paradigm that is known by different names including authentic leadership, integral business, conscious capitalism, and mindful marketing.

What these emerging business models have in common is the idea of running a business that is inspired by a higher purpose that goes beyond making profits. While profits are necessary for business, they are not the raison d’ĂȘtre, just like food is necessary for humans to survive but is not the reason for living or at least that would be the hope. These alternative paradigms are becoming more relevant in the face of changing consumer sensibilities, new technologies, and failures of traditional business models based on the narrow vision of maximizing shareholder value.

So, what is purpose driven or authentic leadership? Heppner and Kernis (2007) provide a comprehensive definition of "authentic functioning as involving four distinct, yet interrelated components: awareness and knowledge of one’s self-aspects, unbiased processing of evaluative information, behavior that is aligned with one’s true self, and a relational orientation with close others that fosters openness and connectivity." Many of these components reflect ongoing activities rather than characteristic traits that can be acquired once and for all. For example, awareness of self is a continuous process of reflection and contemplation on the self; to be aligned with true self assumes that true self is knowable in one go and permanent, but in fact we know that just like everything else, self is ever changing and so is our knowledge of the self. As such, it is more constructive to think of authentic functioning as a process rather than a stable trait.

Authentic or purpose driven entrepreneurship includes other processes that are unique to the business context. In addition to the processes described under general authentic functioning, authentic entrepreneurs are driven by a higher purpose that contributes positively to the world. In addition, they are courageous, committed, and creative; open; and enjoy the many challenges of being authentic entrepreneurs. Each of these aspects of authentic entrepreneurs is described next:

1) Inspired
Authentic entrepreneurs are inspired by a purpose beyond profits. Inspiration is different from motivation. While motivation is driven by external factors like financial and social benefits, inspiration arises from individuals’ unique life experiences and passions. In a recent Harvard Business Review article Bill George and his colleagues describe the inspiration authentic leaders derive from their life stories and the transformative role of challenges in their lives. Inspired people are energized and empowered to do things that normally people are not able to accomplish. Dr. Larry Brilliant, epidemiologist, successful entrepreneur, technologist, author, philanthropist, and former executive director of, is a perfect example of an inspired leader. Because only an inspired person can spend six years traversing India, enduring floods and drought, sickness and fatigue to help the WHO eradicate small pox from this world.

What is your inspired purpose?
(Here is a post to help you reflect on your inner purpose if you need additional help)

2) Positive Contribution
An authentic entrepreneur is inspired by a higher purpose that makes a positive contribution to the world. John Mackie describes conscious businesses as benefiting all stakeholders rather than only shareholders. This does not mean that businesses in certain sectors like fashion or entertainment cannot make a positive contribution. For example, Bonnie Siefers, an eco-designer and owner of Sami Designs Inc. is inspired by her love for fashion and the environment. She designs and sources clothes that are environmentally friendly, cutting-edge, and providing fair wages to workers.

What is your positive contribution?

3) Integrated
The values and purpose guiding authentic entrepreneurs are not merely strategies to win a loyal customer following but are their natural way of being. Such people live their talk not only at work but also in their personal lives. It is easy for customers to assess when the values of authentic leaders are integrated fully into the company and when they are being used as a strategy. For example, when Starbucks says it is selling fair trade coffee, it refers to a small percentage of its entire coffee purchase (3.7% according to Organic Consumers Association) that is offered only once a week to its customers, where as when a company like Deans Beans says it is selling fair trade it means 100% of it’s purchase is fair trade because it is not a strategy but a well integrated value. Like Bill George et al, I believe life can be much simpler if we can be the same person in all aspects of our lives. Gandhi’s quote on happiness is relevant here: "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."

How integrated are you across different aspects of your life?

4) Self awareness
"When the 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness" (Bill George et al). While colleges and schools provide ample training in various skills and disciplines, they do not provide any training in self-awareness. However, many leading business people, like John Mackie (CEO of Whole Foods), Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia), Bill George (Former CEO of Medtronics), and Michael Rennie (McKinsey Managing Partner) are beginning to openly discuss the merits of practices like meditation and mindfulness. In addition, there is a lot of scientific research to provide evidence to support these practices. As an authentic entrepreneur managing your business mindfully and innovatively requires some time out of your daily routine to spend in silence to connect with your self and find your truth.

What do you do to get in touch with your self?

5) Courage, commitment, and creativity
Having a higher purpose is inspiring but can be challenging because there are many willing to take shortcuts that an authentic entrepreneur will not consider. Being an authentic entrepreneur is certainly not for the weak at heart. Neil Crofts (2005) has a very interesting quote in his book, Authentic Business, by Arthur Schopenhauer, "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." If you are an authentic entrepreneur, be prepared to be challenged. You will need not only courage and commitment but also a huge dose of creativity to compete with others while balancing your purpose with profitability. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, provides a good example of an entrepreneur who followed his passion relentlessly for ten years without making a profit. Tim O'Reilly nicely captures this in a quote by Jeff Bezos, "There are a few prerequisites to inventing.... You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to think long term. You have to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time."

Are you courageous, committed, and creative?

6) Open and receptive
I love the quote by Gloria Steinem, "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." Authentic leaders are open to feedback - both positive and negative. They are humble enough to acknowledge mistakes and smart enough to recognize that there is much to be learned from them. The other dimension of being open is that they can deal with multiple perspectives and generally have wide-ranging experiences and expertise. This renders to their natural curiosity to learn and innovate.

How open are you to feedback and multiple perspectives?

7) Support teams and networks
Authentic leaders do not work alone but build effective networks by empowering people. Bill George et al describe support teams as necessary to authentic leadership. These should be mutually beneficial collaborations and include personal and professional relationships. Examples of such networks include family members, business groups sharing common purpose, and online network communities. They take years to build and the key to success is creating a platform for people to speak their minds honestly without fear of being judged.

Are you building strong support networks?

8) Enjoy
Last but not least, authentic entrepreneurs enjoy the journey as much as the destination. In fact, another way to know that you are following your inner purpose is by asking the question -

Do you really enjoy what you do?

Crofts, Neil (2005), "Authentic Business: How to Create and Run Your Perfect Business," Capstone

George, Bill, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean, and Diana Mayer (2007), "Discovering Your Authentic Leadership," Harvard Business Review.

Heppner, Whitney L and Michael H. Kernis (2007), "Quiet Ego" Functioning: The Complementary Roles of Mindfulness, Authenticity, and Secure High Self-Esteem
Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, 1532-7965, Volume 18, Issue 4, 2007, Pages 248 - 251


  1. Lots to think about here Shalini - I love how you've pulled together so many different aspects of authenticity. Keep up your great work!

  2. Thank you for the post, it's very interesting. We are trying to do all these things to make good entrepreneurship.

    See you

  3. Thank you My Million Company. I visited your website and found it interesting and yet confusing. It doesn't have any names of the people behind the venture in the about us section and what is the venture?
    Would be nice to have names and pics of people behind this exciting venture.
    Look forward to staying in touch.

  4. Shalini, what a great article, and what a wonderful companion to the one I wrote. (

    We should talk!

    Susan Baroncini-Moe
    CEO, Business in Blue Jeans

  5. Hi Susan, yeah, we should definitely connect. Telephone? My email is

    Look forward to our exchange :)