Beware of Fake It ‘Til You Make It

At some point in your professional career you’ve probably heard someone advocate that it’s a good idea to “fake it ‘til you make it.”

In other words, pretend.

Beware of this misguided advice. It may lead you astray.

When I first started working as a guest lecturer at Columbia, I thought that I had to be “tough-minded” to be taken seriously. My version of “fake it ‘til you make it” was to present myself as intense, focused, and very hard to please.

It’s embarrassing to think back on it now.

This approach led me to shut down entire parts of my authentic personality. I can be funny, ironic, curious and passionate, but I shut down all of it and became one dimensional. You won’t be surprised to learn that my evaluations were horrible that day.

I mean, really bad.

I’ve seen plenty of people try to fake it ‘til they flop.

People can see through the fakery. They may not be sure exactly why they aren’t buying what you are selling, but it’s not going to go well for you if you are acting your way through life.

What can you do instead?

Instead of faking anything, stop to reflect on who you want to be in the moment.

Start there.

Do you want to be seen as a generous leader? Don’t fake being generous. Just be generous.

Easier said than done, you say? Not really!

To be is a verb, so all it takes is some deliberate practice. Make a list of generous actions you could take in the next week. Your list might look something like this:

  • Focus on listening, without interrupting or advising;

  • Ask more questions, and appreciate different perspectives;

  • Reach out and offer to help my colleague who is struggling;

  • Invite my team to participate in a fundraiser.

Looking back to my Columbia example, I wish I had thought to focus on who I wanted to be in that classroom, instead of “faking it” – as if I was an actor playing a part. That’s how I approach my teaching and coaching today, and it’s a much better way to go.

Who will you be today?



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