Perception is reality. No matter how you view yourself, your profile as a leader will be constructed for you by those with which you work and interact.
Faking Your Way to Authenticity? Seems like a contradiction. Through recent reading and reflection, I propose there are advantages to faking, at times, in order to effectively message to your organization. If you have developed a positive, purposeful vision and you desire to have it take root because you believe it will benefit your organization, faking may help your message be heard.
First, let me start by identifying my audience. This article is written for those leaders who have already embraced the leadership qualities of integrity, building trust, and self-awareness. If there is a question about these leadership attributes, I refer you to my previous writings: Trust, A Force Multiplier https://generalleadership.com/trust-force-multiplier/, Bank Trust and Cash Out Change https://generalleadership.com/bank-trust-cash-change/, Self-Awareness as a Leadership Tool https://generalleadership.com/self-awareness/
Second, let’s talk about how to know whether an attribute is worth faking. I believe that this comes from reading books on leadership and from modeling attributes of effective leaders. Reading and reflection is the most effective way to identify those attributes that will work best for you. There is a danger in solely modeling attributes of leaders that you observe. I have met many leaders who exhibit negative and toxic attributes and credit a previous leader that they worked for or admired. This leader that they credit may have had success based on the particular position, personality traits, or other unique skills. Be very careful taking on and faking attributes from a leader – you are not them, and you are not leading the exact same group of people. I recommend validating the attributes you choose through reading and reflection.
There are times where faking is easy to embrace. I experience this in the military when it comes to protocol and ceremonial events. Being a part time Guardsman, taking on these roles is not totally natural or well-rehearsed. I have learned that it is important that I fake these roles. It is important that I am able to behave in a way that meets the expectations of my military unit and audience in order to maintain their confidence. This confidence is necessary as I impart my vision for the unit. A leader can lose credibility and respect if they are not able to perform their ceremonial duties well in the military. When I describe my roles at a particular event or ceremony to someone not in the military, I say, “They just want me to be a Colonel.” This is how I approach my role and behavior. I simply model what I have observed other leaders do. This is not natural to me, but I fake it so that I can give my unit and the audience what they expect.
There are times where faking can be more challenging to embrace because it requires you to change, not ceremonially, but personally. I recently read the book Presence, by Amy Cuddy. She completed research and determined ways to improve your presence. I really like how she emphasizes the benefits of presence. She says, “Presence mattered to the judges because it signaled authenticity, believability, and genuineness; it told the judges that they could trust the person, that what they were observing was real… that they knew what they were getting. In short: the manifest qualities of presence—confidence, enthusiasm, comfort, being captivating—are taken as signs of authenticity, and for good reason: the more we are able to be ourselves, the more we are able to be present. And that makes us convincing.”
Amy Cuddy then goes through different ways to work on improving your presence. To those who are closed minded, incorrectly secure in their leadership style, or beholden to the idea that if it doesn’t come natural, then it is fake – you may be missing out. Sometimes, trying something new – that may not come natural – may produce benefits to your leadership style and ability to communicate. These attributes help the organization feel comfortable with you, see you as authentic, and be more open to hearing your messaging.
Another book that I read recently was Resilience, by Eric Greitens. In his book, he describes what it means to be resilient. In describing how to overcome challenges, he discusses taking on positive roles and attributes and doing them no matter if you feel like it or not. Eventually, the value of these roles and attributes will become visible and change your outlook, mental state, and improve your resilience. I was drawn to two quotes that emphasize that faking positive attributes can make a difference. The first one is, “We become what we do if we do it often enough. We act with courage, and we become courageous. We act with compassion, and we become compassionate. If we make resilient choices, we become resilient.” The second one is, “When we understand a virtue as an excellence that we practice, three other things will happen. First, you will gain a great sense of power. You will recognize that you have more ability than you thought to shape your character and, with it, your fate. Second, you will become more forgiving of others….Third, we begin to see the power, fun, majesty, and beauty in virtue. Virtue is not what you deny yourself, but what you make of yourself”
These quotes focus on individual traits. I made the connection to traits that affect leadership. Changing your ability to display virtues that are valued by your organization will improve your connection to your people. This connection will make you more authentic and improve your ability to communicate and message your vision.
What about you? Are you open to new leadership attributes that will help your messaging to your organization? I encourage you to pursue these attributes even though they may not come naturally. I encourage you to fake your way to authenticity.