In a room full of 30 people, it is likely we would find ourselves with 30 different definitions of “Leadership” — with each description being just as unique as the individual proposing it.
No single self-help article, blog post, nor esteemed entrepreneurial biography, can seem to quantify precisely what is it that constitutes a good leader. Yet somehow, as humans, we can immediately recognize what a good one looks like, and in less than 2 seconds, we can answer whether or not we like our boss, or fellowship leader, or local congressman.
That is, we have the ability to discern what makes a good leader almost automatically when it’s neatly presented to us. We determine this not by assessing their personality, or their exact ratio of ambition to charisma, rather, we judge how good of a leader someone is by the impression they give off, and how they make those around them feel.
Thus, it’s important to understand that leadership is defined by its leaders, not by its definitions.
The phrase “fake it until you make it” tends to hold a negative connotation when used within the context of a professional environment. Leaders are, for the most part, expected to know everything and be naturally (by whatever supposed means) gifted with the abilities that allow them to lead so effortlessly.
However, this notion is upheld by entirely false assumptions, as not one person is innately gifted with perfectly polished leadership skills — the word “skill” itself meaning that which is developed over time. In fact, research suggests that the quickest development of necessary leadership skills results when individuals actually emulate the actions of people in positions of power similar to that they aspire to (1).
This implies that leadership, like any other ability, is a learning process, and in this case, the only teachers qualified are the leaders themselves. After all, why read a book on leadership by a guy that’s never had to lead?
There is the notion that an individual must to have the specific arrangement of leadership qualities in order to be successful, however this model of leadership, in particular, proposes that the only things needed for success to be achieved, are the desire to learn, and the desire to be a good leader.
Thus, we arrive at our second understanding: the only thing needed to be a good leader, is to lead.
Thankfully, this model of leadership is also a cyclical one. This means, that the more a person tries to be a good leader, and strives to give the right impressions, the more that they become a better leader.
Take confidence for example. In order to gain more of it, one must put themselves “out there” in a position to be confident, so that the whole process itself becomes slightly more second-nature for the next time. With leadership, it is no different.
The expectations of others are immensely powerful, and by following the phrase, “fake it until you make it,” and pretending to be a good leader, the funny-but-never-the-less-valid result is, often, actually being a good leader.
When and where an individual sets out with the goal in mind of pleasing others, alongside a willingness to provide the necessary support, then the choices they make will naturally align with that of a good leader. To be a good leader, someone must start to lead, and doing so with this mindset, will result in being a good leader.
Understand thirdly, then, that leading has far more to do with others than with the leader themselves.
The concept of self-monitoring is one that was first described by research psychologist Mark Snyder, as the process of self-observation and adaptation dependent on surrounding social and situational cues (2).
In short, this means that a person high in self-monitoring, will consciously, and continuously seek to ensure that his/her self-presentation aligns with what is expected of him/her. On the other hand, if a person is low in self-monitoring, they will be far more naturally inclined to remain the same regardless of the circumstance they might find themselves in.
Studies have shown a direct correlation between high self-monitors and positive leadership development (3), (4). This makes sense because someone who is more attuned to their surroundings is most likely to make the necessary changed within their expression of self, to best fit the scenario, or set of obligations.
Drawing the connection between self-monitoring and the concept of “fake it until you make it,” is simple. If a person were to be placed into a position of leadership outside their field of immediate expertise, (or any unfamiliar situation for that matter), and their natural inclination was to observe and imitate those around them, and to conform to any social cues they picked upon, then success would no doubt be rather attainable.
Any individual who is “faking it” is far more likely to adapt a flexible and situationally dependent self-presentation, and will thus emerge as a positive leader, and someone who is willing to tackle obstacles on a case by case basis, with lack of ego and/or fixed response. Again, this follows the idea that wanting to be a good leader, and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to do so, is a key aspect of leadership itself.
The final understanding that the phrase, ‘fake it until you make it,’ can lend us, is that perhaps there’s nothing ‘fake’ about taking the reality of a situation as it comes, and giving it your best damn shot.
Alexandra Walker-Jones — August 2020
- Ibarra, H. (2015) ‘You’re Never Too Experienced to Fake It Till You Learn It’, Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, pp. 2–4.
- Snyder, M. (1974) ‘Self-monitoring of expressive behavior’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 526–537. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0037039
- Eby, L. T., Cader, J. and Noble, C. L. (2003) ‘Why do high self-monitors emerge as leaders in small groups? A comparative analysis of the behaviors of high versus low self-monitors’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33(7), pp. 1457–1479. doi: 10.1111/j.1559–1816.2003.tb01958.x.
- Geller, E. S. (2014) ‘How do you monitor your behavior?’, Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, 48(9), pp. 64–65. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,athens&db=bth&AN=97760396&site=eds-live