I have never been a fan of the saying ‘fake it ’til you make it’, although I know there have been situations in the past that I have found myself in when I have had to do exactly that. These instances are never comfortable as they are usually laced with peaking anxiety, nervous physiology and copious amounts of stress. I realise that in some instances of minor significance faking it may have little or no consequences. The contestant on the T.V. dinner party show that buys the entire menu from the local take away and tries to pass it off as their own may not have done any serious harm other than to their own credibility. The Walter Mitty type that spends his time trying to convince everyone else that he is the true representation of what he imagines himself to be, as he spins some great tale of great feats of achievement and self importance, usually only ever convinces himself. Neither these instances, nor any like them are likely to end up in making it. They only ever serve to perpetuate the fantasy of the one faking it. However, there have been instances where real damage has been done by the individual that poses as a medical practitioner and manages to secure a post in a hospital. Or the amateur pilot that somehow convinces a major airline that he qualifies to fly an airliner, as in the story of Frank Abagnale made famous by the movie ‘Catch Me If You Can.’
The difficulty I have with the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ saying is that I feel it represents an attitude that can all too easily end up causing problems for ourselves or others. As part of Black History Month, ex England and Liverpool player John Barns told BT Sport of the expectations and standards that his father had for him as an emerging footballer. He said that his father pushed him to do everything with commitment, integrity and authenticity. These three words really resonated with me. What more could we ask from our leaders, team members, colleagues, customers, representatives, or any of our stakeholders than that? Commitment, integrity and authenticity are to my mind the key elements that should earmark our leadership, our model of conducting business, our way of relating to customers and colleagues alike. Commitment, integrity and authenticity should infuse every aspect of todays leaders in business, politics and culture in general. They should be the distinguishing marks that typify a business or individual that is here for the long haul.
When anyone fakes it there is no authenticity, there is no integrity and resemblance of commitment is purely cosmetic. Of course there is a need for anyone to be able to come to terms with any task set before them. We all need time to adjust, to comprehend and understand expectations and possibilities. We need time to practise and to improve and often we need to do that on the job. There is a distinction between on the job learning and faking it. Specifically, learning. When learning is taking place it is a very different thing to faking it. Learning is an acknowledgment of a gap in understanding, not pretending you already know. Perhaps a better approach to ‘fake it ’til you make it’, would be ‘learn it ’til you earn it.’ Acknowledging that we all need time to build our understanding and to increase our skill set and the level of proficiency in any given task not only should bring freedom from the dreaded imposter syndrome but it also brings release from the anxiety and stress that so often accompanies faking it. The feelings of stress that come form the anxiety that at any moment we are about to be found out, do not accompany the learner. A learner knows that they need time to improve, that they will need a mentor or teacher that will invest in them. They know they need opportunities to practise and to improve their skill set. Once we acknowledge our need for this level of investment, then we can get about the task of becoming the best we can be, based on our commitment to the learning, our integrity in regard to a job well done and the authenticity of it being a job done right.
If a leader is faking leadership, when a crisis comes that demands genuine leadership then they find their style of leadership bankrupt. If an individual is faking knowledge, it only takes a well informed other to ask a pertinent question that will expose the lie. If someone is faking proficiency, when quality is tested or output examined, the shortfall will be obvious for all to see. But where there is learning there is ongoing improvement, proficiency is increased and experience improved. Even if the learner does not know the answer, they will most likely know where the answer can be found. If they do not have the skill to perform a task they will have the knowledge, not only to know how the task should be done correctly, but also to know the dangers if it is done incorrectly.
Regardless of how long we have held a position or been within a given industry, there is always room for learning. Let us not be fakers, rather let us be learners. Let us be those that fulfil our tasks with integrity, that interact with others with authenticity. Let us be those that are not only committed to our team and our task but also to the priority of life long learning.