10 Reasons Not to “Fake It Until You Make It"

Please stop telling people to “fake it until you make it”.  It’s an old piece of career advice that is often shared with the best intentions.  The rationale is that if someone responds to a new challenge by adopting successful behaviors, their confidence will eventually catch up.  Unfortunately, most of us have internalized the harmful message that showing up as we are is unacceptable.  We believe that people prefer the impressive show we put on instead of our real selves.  Almost every week, I hear coaching clients describe aspects of themselves they wish they could change.  In their drive to belong and excel, they have taken self-improvement to extremes and value the appearance of expertise over deeper personal alignment and authenticity.

Here are 10 ways I have seen “Faking It” hurt organizations and deplete leaders: 

  1. It is exhausting.  Constantly evaluating what you “should” do requires a significant amount of attention.  When clients tell me they feel close to burning out, I almost always hear that they don’t feel like they can be themselves at work. 

  2. It discourages diversity and inclusion. Employees from underrepresented demographics frequently run a mental filter before speaking or acting to ensure their behavior fits in.  When mentors advise someone to navigate bias by acting more like the normative leader, they send the message that divergent perspectives are not valued.

  3. It contributes to Imposter Syndrome.  When we believe that our success is completely due to imitated behaviors, we fear that we will be “found out”.  (Get more tips for breaking free from Imposter Syndrome.)

  4. It leads to mistrust.  Leaders who act confident when they don’t feel that way are often assumed to be dishonest.  Teams can sense when their manager is withholding information and feel less inspired to follow them as a result. 

  5. It limits creative problem solving.  When rising stars are encouraged to approach problems the same way more experienced leaders do, companies lose the competitive advantage of a fresh perspective.

  6. It keeps leaders in roles that are a poor fit.  Not everyone excels at all tasks and that’s okay.  I have coached numerous clients who dislike their jobs and aren’t meeting expectations but believe that if they keep forcing themselves, the situation will improve.  Recognizing misalignment is an undervalued competency.

  7. It causes great talent to be overlooked.  Managers who try to identify high-potential employees in their team have a harder time doing so if those employees are imitating others.  Let your strengths shine, especially if they make you unique.

  8. It hurts relationships. When people unconsciously believe that they have to show up a certain way at work, it’s not surprising that they feel isolated and competitive.  If they can’t be themselves in the office, others don’t have the opportunity to grow close to them in a meaningful way.

  9. It impairs decision making.  When taught to doubt their natural inclinations, leaders have trouble recognizing their “yes”.  As a result, they get stuck in indecision or cling too hard to an approach that isn’t working. 

  10. It decreases retention.  When people don’t feel like they are valued for who they are, they often look for other opportunities.   

So what is the solution?  Should we all march to the beat of a different drummer and start the day by declaring our lack of expertise?  Not exactly. I encourage my clients to know themselves so they can make choices about how they lead.  If one of their unique strengths isn’t appreciated on their team, we try different strategies to demonstrate how it connects to the organization’s goals.  If they have spent so many years copying others that they can’t find their true inner voice, we develop that skill.

Breaking the “faking it” cycle is a liberating step toward more authentic engagement and fulfillment. It’s a new approach to success that aligns your inner and outer life and creates phenomenal results. Trust me, it’s worth it.