For a long time, I would just tell people to “fake it until you make it.” That was the antidote for Imposter Syndrome, right? That or “Do it with the confidence of a mediocre white man,” was the joke.
But I’ve been having a lot of calls with smart, great, emerging leaders who tell me they’re not sure if they can/should/have agency to make a new step. I’ve thought about this a lot, because I kept ending up saying that I was giving them permission, even though they didn’t need it and I was sure they could do it.
The other night, despite how tired I was, I popped into my new workplace’s diversity mixer, which is held annually with community leaders and the newsroom. I was talking to a community member about the idea of power. I said I wanted to empower more people and he stopped me. He said that it’s not about empowering. Empower implies that the person empowering is coming from a place of privilege, giving someone something they do not have. In truth, they already have it.
It’s not about empowering people. It’s reminding them they have the power and can use the agency to do it. It’s about supporting people in that process. He described it as showing people the light switch that was always there.
At some point, I stopped faking it. (Well, most of the time.) My confidence still doesn’t come from me. It comes from the support I have — my boss, my friends, my partner — and their flashlights if you will. I cannot hear myself telling me that I am successful, and I can lead that project. But I do try to hear other people saying it. I hold close compliments from mentors, the time someone told me that they look up to me, or that I have great ideas, or that I should launch more projects and initiatives.
Part of the “emerging” that defines the people this newsletter is for is implying that we may not feel like we are leaders, yet, even though we are. I started writing about this and sharing my experiences as someone who was “faking it,” not any sort of expert. That vulnerability, I’ve found, is so extremely valuable and is actually not a weakness, but a strength of the kind of leader I hope to be.
Faking it might not be the right position. The right position might be trying your best, and supporting others who are looking around just as bewildered as you are. Own the fact that you don’t know, but want to learn. Make your journey part of your team’s journey. They might teach you something that you wouldn’t learn if you were too busy pretending you had all the confidence in the world.
I don’t want to fake it anymore. I want to try to embody my awkward, goofy, failure (but also success)-prone style of leadership. And I’d love to hear how you fake it, or how you stopped.