How many times have you heard these words? How many people have given you this advice?
Plenty is my guess.
On the surface, this seems like harmless advice but is it something that you can effectively use in your career?
The answer is yes and no.
Through the course of my career, I have been put through a number of situations where I had no idea what I was doing because of which I have been able to determine when it’s beneficial to fake it and when it’s right to admit your weakness.
Do: When It’s a Matter of Confidence
No matter what professional position you are in, there will come a time when you are pushed out of your comfort zone, when you are faced with responsibilities you may not be ready for.
For example, you may be asked to train the new employees or present your idea to a panel of senior executives, or as it was in my case, to lead weekly meetings for my employees. You may very well be aware of the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of the way this new task needs to be done but you won’t be aware of what the process will yield for you. Taking the previous example forward, you may know ‘how’ to address the new recruits and you may know exactly ‘what’ to say but you don’t know what it will bring up for you.
What you must understand is that knowing something theoretically and acting on it are two very different things. You may be familiar with the material that has to be presented but you may not be confident with the idea of actually standing up in front of people and presenting it. Or like me, you may have read every possible book and article on leading a group meeting but are nervous about commanding a room full of your employees.
These are the situations where you should embrace the ‘fake it till you make it’ advice. You have all the knowledge you need, so feigning a little courage won’t do any harm. Putting on a brave face will get you through it but more importantly, it will give you genuine confidence for the next time you’re in a similar situation.
Don’t: When it’s a Matter of Knowledge
In the course of your career you will also come across situations and responsibilities that you don’t know how to handle. Understand that it’s okay to not know.
For example, maybe you’re asked to develop a budget forecast for the next quarter but your financial experience is limited and you don’t have the know-how to complete this task. Or, you’re given the responsibility of running an ad campaign from start to finish, when you really only have the knowledge of one specific component.
As a first-time manager, I remember being asked to let an employee go. It was my very first time in such a situation and I had absolutely no idea how to even get started.
It will not help you to feign expertise in situations where you truly don’t know how to do something, where you don’t have the basic knowledge to perform the task. It is more likely to hurt you than help in any way.
Putting on a confident face and hoping that you will be able to complete the unfamiliar task won’t allow you to successfully finish the job. It is more likely that someone will eventually realize that you have no idea what you’re doing and call you on it and then you will end up having to start from scratch which will not just waste time but also resources.
Moreover, if your co-workers, employees, or boss find out that you’re doing something wrong and pretending you know how to do it, they’re going to be less likely to trust you in the future, which will limit your opportunities within the organization.
In my case, pretending I knew how to fire someone would have been damaging to everyone involved in the process. Had I not been aware of the standard protocol, I would have left out vital information in my conversation with the employee, which would have been an HR nightmare and could possibly have brought on some tricky legal repercussions for the company. It would also be confusing and unfair to the employee who was being terminated.
This one incident could have affected my team’s perception of my leadership skills and my boss’ opinion of me as an effective manager. My actions, whether I chose to feign confidence or admit what I didn’t know, would have decided my career path.
In such situations, it’s smarter to own up to your weakness and gain the knowledge you need to get the task done, rather than faking confidence and wasting precious time, energy and resources. Once you have the knowledge, feel free to fake the confidence and get the job done.
‘Fake it till you make it’ can be great advice or it can be the worst advice, depending on your situation and how you choose to implement this advice.