Two Leadership Qualities You Can’t Fake. So DON’T.


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I have always loathed the phrase Fake it til you make it. If you don’t know how to drive a car, please don’t fake the ride.

You may kill us both.

Ever since the notion of fake news entered our vernacular, I have wondered. What are the things a leader can’t fake? I was asked to coach someone on gravitas last week. Can you fake gravitas? How do you get some? How about a sense of authority? Wisdom?

Back to basics. A few years ago, I shared the speaking stage with Doug Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup. Doug was known as a “turn-around guy.” Our audience of mid-career corporate executives expected Doug to share insights on, well, turn-around strategy, robust strategy execution, tips on building high-performing teams. Instead, here’s what they got from Doug:

  • Be genuine
  • Care about people

You may go DUH. Of course. I know that.

Good. These ARE the basics. Dale Carnegie wrote about them compellingly in his 1936 classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Back to the future. You can’t fake the basics in a Zoom meeting. Can’t fake them with fancy slides. Can’t fake them with charm. You can’t. And without these two basics, your personal impact in the world is forever hampered.

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Let’s break down these two items, shall we?

Be genuine
We have created lots of code language around this notion. Be vulnerable, be transparent. Yeah, I like those words. Fancy modern words. If we’re going to go modern, I like be real best.

Genuine has a more old-fashioned ring to it that I like even better. Allow me to translate: Don’t bullshit people. Don’t deliver fake-peppy talk. Don’t unload unexamined clichés on folks. Don’t pretend to have answers that you don’t have. Don’t act like you have it all together when you don’t. Don’t hold me or anyone else to an idealized standard that no one can meet.

Have good boundaries. But be real. Be human. Be genuine.

Care about people
It doesn’t mean act nice. Doesn’t mean showering folks with gifts or compliments. Doesn’t mean discussing career planning or expressing interest in someone’s personal life. It may, in fact, mean firmly holding someone accountable and offering a bit of tough love.

On the most essential level, caring about people springs from an unwavering belief that in the larger scheme of things, you and the other person are one. Regardless of position, of education, or social standing, there is no separation or separateness between you two. Act from that place. It is the well from which true caring springs.

Please have boundaries. And do not be separate from others.

Alisa Alexander, a fiery colleague of mine who develops Educational Programs and Corporate Events for Mary Kay Cosmetics, has her own take on the classic “fake it” statement. Fake it til you feel it. That works for me, Alisa. Yeah, act as if you are confident. As if you are ready to conquer the world. But please don’t fake skills you don’t have. And don’t ever, ever fake the people stuff.

It doesn’t work.

Drop fully into being genuine and caring about people. If you already embody these qualities, you know how they help you meet every challenge with grace. If you have a sense that you can drop a little deeper, go ahead, drop.

And if you were to hop into a dinghy and head for a desert island where internet distractions are not to be found, take Dale Carnegie with you.

Originally posted at Brilliant Best by Achim Nowak

Achim Nowak
Achim Nowak is an Executive Coach, Business Thinker, TEDx Speaker and Mastermind Convener. The author of 3 books on Personal Presence, Achim has helped hundreds of CEOs and C-Suite executives in global enterprises around the world to amplify their personal impact. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company, USA Today and on NPR.


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