Pretending Its OK or Freedom Through Real
Image source by George Hodan
Pretending you have it together indicates you don’t.
Pretending perpetuates problems, propagates failures, and strengthens stress. Worse yet, …
Leaders who pretend lose themselves, bit by bit.
Bill George writes, “One Stanford professor has discovered that the number one fear of top leaders is “being found out.” (The foreword of, “Leadership and the Art of the Struggle,” by Steven Snyder.)
You continue being the problem
until you acknowledge you’re part of the problem.
Everyone struggles. Perhaps ignorance is bliss in some contexts but never in leadership.
No one has it all together; pretending won’t make it so.
The leaders you place on pedestals feel confusion, doubt, and fear.
Run from every leader who doesn’t struggle. They’re intentional fakers, deluded, or they wrongly believe being positive is pretending its OK when it isn’t.
Pretending it’s so doesn’t make it so.
The first danger of false positivity:
Problems take root and grow when you close your eyes and pretend.
You can’t address what you pretend isn’t there.
“Tuning out all negative thoughts and emotions can be a roadblock to the honest conversations people need to have with themselves and with others.” Steven Snyder.
The second danger of false positivity:
Ostrich leaders – those who pretend its ok when it’s not – propagate insecure cultures.
Fake faces at the top invalidate your struggle. How can they have it together when you’re falling apart?
Ostrich leaders subtly encourage others to bury their heads in the sand.
Freedom through real:
“Savvy leaders embrace struggle as an opportunity for growth and learning, as an art to be mastered.” Steven Snyder.
The first step toward real is admitting you’re not. Growth and learning begin at that point, not before.
The second step toward real is revealing your true self to trusted friends.
What false beliefs propagate pretending?
How can leaders embrace struggle without losing confidence?
Free chapter of, The Art of The Struggle.” (No email required. Just enjoy.)
There is the perception that admitting doubts, fears, pressures is a sign of weakness and uncertainty. Perhaps it’s because so many of us were raised to never question authority and rarely did the authority figures in our life ask for our opinions or admit uncertainty. Learned behaviours are hard to change, but when we find the courage to remove the mask of invincibility and ask for help, relationships are strengthened and end results improve.
Thank you Laurie.
Your comment suggests that parents should be more authentic with children. love it.
Have you read Gardenr’s Five Minds of the Future?
“Educators will recognize the importance of fostering respectfulness among students (the respectful mind). Gardner distinguishes real respect from mere tolerance of differences. Cultivating respect and emotional and interpersonal intelligence among students, teachers, and the greater school community are essential goals in a world where diversity of perspectives is a fact of life.”
What he is saying is that students have the capacity to be taught very constructive ways of perceiving the world – but – we squash it out of them. Like this…. http://c.suite101.com/files/styles/large/public/000/258/000258211.jpg
He advocates exactly what you are saying – be – realistic with kids right from the get go!
You sai….”Your comment suggests that parents should be more authentic with children. love it.” Celebrating struggle as a n art to be mastered …..if we taught kids this way it would be a gift to the world, Jo
The fear of being perceived as negative keeps many from admitting they’re struggling. When you work in a corporate culture that values being positive over facing real problems, you’re seen as negative if you point out the elephant in the room and you can stall your career. How do you point out problems to leaders who don’t want to see them? The curse of middle management…
Thank you Suzanne.
I appreciate the struggle and danger of confronting real issues in cultures that prefer pretending. It’s more prevalent than some might think.
What if the way we point out a problem is in the pursuit of a solution?
“I’m trying to figure out the best way to address this issue, do you have any suggestions?” Just assume everyone knows the problem already… ????
You have great question. It is strongly prevalent at most of the work places and your observation is absolutely right. I think, being in middle management level, pointing out someone at the top is dangerous. So, the better strategy is to understand the trend, culture and coroporate belief. You should be at comfortable hierarchy to point out at the top. Alternatively, you can provide some series of good example of performance and good relationship with key people, they you can raise issue being cautious. There is way to raise issue. You should not do such things normally in public. However, you can politely draw the attention to some issues. But never, never point out towards people. Only talk about issues and its possible impact. But do not look aggressive, negative or against someone.
Suzanne, don’t you just hate it when you feel you can’t point out the OBVIOUS???????????/
I just hate that! I do it ANYWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL
I keep doing it despite my FEELINGS about it and darn if things are not getting lots better.
Finding that out YYYIIIPPPPEEEEEE! Even though the necessary changes are WAY TOO SLOW the simple truths my ideas bring into focus are being paid attention to. If it is clear this way is better what the heck anyone waiting on? Do it better NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yesterday, we are making and continuing impressions made every second every day! Implement BETTER NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Remember The Wizard of Oz? Real scary dude at first! Then all he was was a projected image larger than life! Behind the projected image was just a friendly little fella! Being intimidated by fear is for ninnies, whatever they are!
Most of what I FEAR(Faulty evidence appearing real) never happens so I pretty much ignore my feelings as I trudge along the road to happy destiny.
You know the crazy thing Suzanne, as many times as I have told myself these things there are STILL things that terrorize me! Seems since I figured some of this out logically I would not still get scared from time to time! WoW isn’t it interesting being a human being? Go figure!
Good luck to you!
I absolutely agree that fear is perhaps the root cause that makes leaders insecure. This insecuity makes them to invite behaviours and habit that create ego, arrogance and ignorance. Fear is good as long as it enourage to learn, accept and work hard. But when it becomes dominant over effort and incopetency, then it leads to unfair behaviour like pretending, manipulating and keeping onself inside the cabin.
I have strong belief that leaders who pretend actually struggle to secure their job and position. And they are more insecure then other people. False belief comes from personality, comparison and individual definition of success.
Leaders need to think that they are human beings just like others around. They need to strongly behave in the way, that others should not feel them superiors and better than others in terms of values, honesty, helping and ecouraging. Leaders need to creat the feelings of their presence among followers. Positive presence should bring right and impactful behaviour among people around.
Thank you Ajay.
I smiled when reading your comment that leaders who pretend are more insecure than those who don’t. 🙂
I also believe that comparing ourselves with others can be deadly. Great call.
Well Thoreau said “most men live lives of quiet desperation”.
How about the ladies??? hehe
My point is no wonder we lie, we have no clue who we really are and we are bombarded with images through media all the time most cannot possibly live up to.
Want to know who you are? Read the two greatest books of all time(besides number one The AA Big Book) The Greatest Salesman in the World and The Greatest Miracle in the World. Og will let you know who you are. Then read that part in the second book 100 nights in a row and you will have a good chance to convince yourself of it! I did.
Lying is just not a sound strategy in my opinion. Eventually the truth comes out, Madoff, Lay, ect ect ect!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
One of the great things about these books is they are generic even though spiritual. That means Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Agnostic whoeva can still utilize its wisdom cause you do not have to declare which team of the big guy upstairs you are on for the info to be available to you. Generic info open to all of his chillin!
Generic info. When some folks are sincerely dedicated to their paritcular faith they might not want to read stuff from books of other faiths, That is cool, these books are all generic, open to all with no declarations of a particular faith required. Kind of like America!
Once you figure out who you are there is absolutely no need to lie. If you still feel the need to do that and many human beings do, not much I can do to help you with that Sparky.
Ok windmills waiting on me to drive by so gotta go!
Anyways, figuring out why we lie is in my opinion a great place to start. if you think you are a Leader, start!
Lastly, anything I say is based on my experience and subject to be wrong and revised at any point I find out something else! Not intending to offend anyone with my spiritual solutions if they might be different than yours. Just sharing what works for me and might be of some use to you.
Love your last paragraph… 🙂 Now that’s real.
It’s amazing how this kind of honesty can bring out the leader in some of your team members, too. Falsehood looks good today, but honesty builds the future.
Thank you Justin.
I hadn’t thought of the past/present/future dynamic. thanks for a great add.
This is something I’m currently faced with… At work, no matter how overburdened, let’s just throw something new on top of you. It’s done to everyone and we are just to accept with a smile (most of the time).
Much of my career at a large organization was spent saying “yes” to every job. Man did it hit the fan when I finally said “No” to my boss. It was tough for everyone.
Hi Mary, another way to share this type of stuff with yourself that might make it easier…….
“they trust ME enough with this to ask me to do it, wow they must have a ton of confidence in me”
If you share this with yourself this way it might sting less, maybe!
Then there is Mother Teresa…..dude walks up to her and says Wow God must really trust you giving you all this responsibility….. She ponders a second, then looks at said Dude and says, :Yes and sometimes I wish he did not trust me so much cause I am not sure his calculations of me are correct?!!!!!!!!!!!
Now I know that is not verbatim but feel assured you got the drift.
Oh the trials and tribulations of the dependable!!!!
As with many other things – it’s a balancing act. I think that effective leaders are proficient at broadening their focus so that they don’t just see a problem or challenge but rather see the space around it as well.
So while they may have fear, confusion, doubt, etc., they also may not be as consumed by it as others because they see the larger picture. That allows effective leaders to bring realism tempered by a sense of steady assurance that helps their teams understand that they can persevere… even learn and grow through the experience.
Thank you KB.
Nice. There is something freeing about seeing MORE than the immediate problem. The big view is enabling as long as we can still take small steps.
Great post, Dan, as always.
I use a summary of this in one of my life values, which is:
“You can’t fake authentic”.
I believe this applies in all aspects of life and I fully agree that, by pretending (or ignoring or averting or side-stepping) the core issues, we never open the door to learning, growth and excellence.
Well done and thank you for your wisdom.
And thank you Bud for sharing one of your values. I love well turned phrases.
When does pretending trump persaverance?
Great question… I’m not sure those who pretend are actually persevering???
What seems so ironic is that leaders who are “real” (not pretending), who share what is going on, ask for help from the team, admit they’re human, can laugh at themselves…. are the strongest and most beloved!
I have had leaders laugh as they deliver tough news or deadlines, but in a way that is at once vulnerable and yet solid… looking for my thoughts, or assistance, and you know what? I would follow those kinds of leaders to the end of the earth!
Thank you Rachel.
YOu are nailing it. Vulnerability invites people in…
Decades ago, I heard a sales trainer say: “It’s sometimes just as damaging to cling to thinking positively when things are going poorly as it is to think negatively when things are going well.” His point was to embrace reality and respond more effectively versus being in denial.
Thank you Stephen.
YOu just reminded me of Bobby Knights new book, Negative Thinking. I think I’m going to go check that out. As if I need another book…
As a mid-level manager I understand this I am struggling right now with being positive. We have a very negative atmosphere here and I have consistently tried to improve things. I now find myself falling into the abyss and looking for a way out. If anyone has some help to offer.
Thanks George. I respect your honesty. Perhaps thats the first step out.
Positive cultures are never built by one person. Could you find one or two other people who will choose to work with you.. supporters.
Plus, what does positive atmosphere mean? Be specific… what exactly do you want? Could you choose one small positive behavior every day that moves you toward a positive atmosphere?
Culture building is a challenge. I’d say again, can you find some others to join your positive bandwagon?
Pretending, taken to its extreme, is faking it.
But “pretending” can also be practice. You can “pretend” that you are an accomplished public speaker and practice that until you IS one. I mean, how else do you improve?
You can pretend that you are a consultant until you IS one, too. I went into consulting with a Ph.D. and two years of professorship and some knowledge of the training materials (yeah, I had a chance to look at them before I started using them.) My pretending actually worked pretty well, since I found that LISTENING was a good skill and a lot easier than espousing all that I knew. Results were quite good, actually.
Once I became the skilled expert, I listened less and did a lot more telling, which made me FEEL like less of a pretender but actually decreased my effectiveness.
NOW, I try to pretend a good bit when listening to issues before framing up what people should do differently.
(Wish I could pretend to type better, too.)
Ya think? Pretending is not a bad thing unless it starts actively interfering with effectiveness. Learning is part of pretending. So is storytelling, I think.
Thank you Dr. Scott.
KaChing! Fantastic add. You show the value of “faking it”
Always a pleasure.
I am going to comment on your questions in reverse order.
How can leaders embrace struggle without losing confidence? One way to embrace or at least accommodate struggle without losing confidence has to do with a strong support system. One of Steven Snyder’s subjects, Frank Russomanno talked about his wife’s role. At a time of intense struggle in his professional life, she was supportive BUT asked candid, honest questions in a way that helped him gain a different perspective on the situation. His story may have ended up differently had she not been supportive/honest like that.
What false beliefs propagate pretending? I think it’s something about how we believe everyone else has it together and that by showing our own weaknesses, we will be doing ourselves a disservice. I think that’s one of the reasons Steven J Snyder focuses so much on mindfulness — in an effort to get leaders to be more comfortable with themselves and to listen more closely to (and trust) their inner voices.
My thoughts on this book here: http://biggreenpen.com/2013/03/10/a-precious-whisper-in-a-windstorm-a-book-review/
Thank you Paula.
Isn’t support – honest support – powerful! Where would we be without it. Makes me think about how important it is to be supportive to others.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Steven’s book.
Dan – thanks for this. I think every new manager should read this column.
Thanks for what you do. – Anthony
Thank you Anthony and best wises.
There must be many leaders out there who ‘pretend.’ Working in retail, I have seen them pretend they have established communication with their ‘associates.’ Then they pretend they have a rapport with their associates; they pretend that their own supervisors are really interested in furthering the retail business itself and push policy that sells no-quality equipment to consumers willing to pay top dollar to be ripped off.
Thank you Vin. Sadly, the problem of pretending isn’t limited to retail. 🙂
Dan – it was a welcome change to see this post. So frequently, we are told that we have to put on a “happy face” when in reality there isn’t anything to smile about. I think that new leaders, in particular, struggle with this. In an attempt to make a good impression, they make everything appear as if it is fine. Then when top leadership discovers otherwise, they don’t know how to handle the situation. Like I tell my teenage daughter, “bad news doesn’t get better with age” so she might as well let me know right upfront when something goes wrong. Even though I might still be disappointed, the consequences for her actions will be less severe than if she tries to hide the situation behind a web of deceit.
Love “bad news doesn’t get better with age” Pow!
The thing authentic leaders do is maintain optimism. Thats different from pretending. Optimistic leaders see reality and trust they can take positive actions… they can do something. Maybe not solve everything but just make it better.
I actually breathed a sigh of relief after reading this post Dan. Sort of reminiscent of a Jerry Maguire movie moment. As in…YES! Another voice is speaking out about this! The more the merrier. : )
That said, while it’s no secret that I’m sort of a hard core supporter of ‘getting real’. That can perhaps at times come across as lacking in empathy to another real fact that is true for most if not all of us. We all learned how to pretend for GOOD reasons at one time. Many of us learned in various ways that it was not acceptable to BE REAL so we had to hide the most real parts of ourselves. Both men and women. We were taught to hide our feelings. We were taught to protect the status quo. We’ve been taught to comply. Add all of the other things we can all think of.
I think on all sides of the equation; for both the leadership side of the house and for team members/employees, etc. The challenge to being real is that it slams up against those that aren’t yet ‘ready’ to get real. Because it’s legitimately scary for some. And for others, it’s not in their best interests if the status quo serves them. (i.e. greed etc) So getting real involves the willingness to take down defenses. Our ‘shields’ of protection. If we are predominantly surrounded by several supporters of the ‘getting real’ club…this is a very welcome breath of fresh air. When we aren’t, it can turn into a sort of ‘slaughter’.
How can anyone risk being vulnerable and ‘getting real’ if they have to spend most of their time shielding themselves from the attacks of others when they DO try to get real? And that is the CRUX of the challenge here as we progress.
Leaders face this too. Some may be tired of pretending and will the team welcome and embrace their leaders as real humans with real frailties and flaws? Will they be looked upon as weak instead of people who can truly ‘lead the way’? All legitimate fears and concerns.
Same is true for team members, employees etc.
One of the keys is somehow creating spaces where it is SAFE for both leaders and teams/employees (even family) to be real. A safe space where no one has to pretend. A space where it is safe to speak the truth (without attacking people, etc)
So one of my ongoing questions as been… How can team members/employees etc help make it safe for leaders to quit pretending and be real? And what can leaders do to make it safe for their teams/employees to do the same?
This has been an ongoing exploration for me personally.
Thanks again for the post Dan.
Thank you Samantha.
YOur passion and insight shines through. YOu make me feel how important this issue is.
Creating a safe space makes sense…I have warning flags that honesty can be used against us…but the concept makes sense to me.
Thanks again for your thoughts.
Very interesting thoughts. I just took on a new role as a mid-level manager in my organization, and I’m getting exposed to quite a few pretenders.
First of all, I am learning that some leaders establish a position and solidify themselves in their positions by pretending to be more competent and innovative than they actually are. I’m also learning that hard work, some humility in admitting deficiencies and a willingness to learn can really go a long way to help create a better manager.
In regards to being vulnerable by being real……….. I think the recommendation of carefully identifying and maintaining a trustworthy group of expert resources is the way to go.
Dan, I believe most men have been raised to believe that they have to project a facade of confidence at all times, to be strong, to be super-human. Many men struggle with leadership because of those false beliefs. If being real leads to influence, then that will ultimately lead to greater leadership. A tough lesson!
I know this is an old post, so not sure if you’re going to see or read this, but I’ll give it a shot.
I am involved in an exciting process of helping to shape a sustainable, thriving culture for our entrepreneurial, Gen 2, family business.
It is clear that transparency, caring, empowerment, alignment of values, purpose and passion.. will be important stepping stones as we lay the ground for the way forward.
It is less clear to me to where healthy boundaries between personal and professional ought to be in an open, transparent culture.
My inclination is to share my awareness of own imperfections, blind spots, challenges, very openly. Firstly, I believe it helps those around me understand in what ways I might need supports. And secondly, equally importantly it sends the message that its ok to be imperfectly human, to have blindspots or challenges and to need help. In fact, I’d prefer to have people that know their limitations and feel comfortable sharing that, then wearing masks to prop themselves up in inauthentic ways.
I have gotten feedback recently that people were surprised about my openness and I”m not yet sure how to make use of the feedback.
I’m not sure whether it is a function of something they are not accustomed to from leadership-and are reacting in familiar ways from their own experience in cultures of concealment, where people prop their fragile, concealed selves up thru gossip, put downs and politics- or whether I am being insensitive to necessary boundaries between professional and personal, that ought to be maintained, even in an open, transparent, caring culture. My sharing is not so much about my personal life- but about my own professional blind spots, which comes out through humor, in stories I share.
So, my wise friend, I await your wisdom and counsel!