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By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, InMilitary and InCyberDefense. Charisma Coach and Speaker.
Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
Does the saying “‘fake it until you make it” actually work? Yes…and no. Well, it’s complicated.
I recently met a new friend who serves as CEO of a very successful national marketing strategy firm. Let’s call him “Joe.” Like me, Joe is a veteran who was attracted to entrepreneurship after his military service because of its challenges and its rewards.
Joe came to me to improve his interpersonal skills through my charisma coaching, and during our consultation meeting, I wanted to know all about his background: How did he build a multi-million-dollar business in only two years? How did he navigate “the valley of death,” the early time frame when 90% of startups go out of business?
Most importantly, how did he score those crucial early first customers?
His answers were stunning: In the first six months of his business, he represented his company as much larger than it actually was. But he didn’t stop there. Joe bought himself an $80,000 Audi on credit, spent his life savings on Rolex watches and $1,000 suits, flew first class and stayed in the best hotels. Joe admitted that he enjoyed the attention that he got from other people, but deep inside he felt hollow.
Upon deeper reflection, Joe acknowledged that his first customers didn’t actually come because of the perception that his company was booming. He freely admits that it was six months of 80-hour work weeks and spending most of his efforts ensuring that his business fundamentals were sound.
In fact, Joe stated that his first really large client, the one that put him on the map, found him through pure blind luck.
The Right Way to ‘Fake It’
Thanks to social media, it is very easy for many of us to create an idealized version of ourselves for the world to see. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to better ourselves. However, there is an ethical line that we cross when we are outright deceptive, especially in a business setting.
So when is it appropriate to “fake it” without being phony or inauthentic?
Acting “as if” is a common prescription in psychotherapy. It’s based on the idea that if you behave like the person you want to become, you’ll become like that in reality.
In the world of interpersonal coaching, confidence and charisma, faking it actually works and I encourage it. After all, a 2013 study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that, in group dynamics, early assertiveness becomes self-enforcing.
Think about it like this: If you lack confidence in a group setting, standing in a certain pose that projects authority or communicating using confident body language not only makes you feel more confident on the inside, but projects confidence on the outside.
This creates something of a positive loop; our body language governs how we think and feel about ourselves. In her much-publicized 2012 TED talk, Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School social psychologist, shared her findings that adopting a powerful posture can affect your body chemistry. She discovered that people who maintained power poses showed a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and an increase in testosterone, a hormone related to dominance and confidence.
When I coach clients on charisma and on becoming a person who magnetically captivates strangers, my prescription is threefold: Take confidence, enthusiasm and humility three times per day and call me in the morning. Two of these, confidence and enthusiasm, can be faked until you begin to cultivate a true aptitude with these skills.
Unfortunately, humility can’t be faked, nor should it be. The strong overlap between charisma and narcissism means that it’s easy for charm to turn into arrogance and entitlement. Humility is the balance you need to offset confidence and prevent it from turning into arrogance.
Fortunately, it’s easy to be humble. There’s always somebody out there who is stronger, faster and has more money.
If you are unable to fake humility, try this instead:
- Put the spotlight on others: Make a concerted effort to recognize the achievements of team members and subordinates. They will LOVE you for this.
- Increase self-awareness: Actively try to understand your limitations and show a willingness to acknowledge your mistakes.
- Be open to feedback: A trademark of humility is being coachable, which means opening yourself up to criticism and accepting that your way is not the only way.
- Check your sense of entitlement: Work to earn the respect of your colleagues; don’t automatically assume that because you have three Ph.D.s, you are automatically entitled to respect.
- Monitor your self-promoting behaviors: Focus on trying to get along rather than getting ahead. We all know that one person in the office who is an obvious self-promoter. Don’t be that person.
Ultimately, “faking it” can be a key ingredient in your quest for self-improvement. Successfully engaging in fulfilling relationships with other humans creates opportunities. But it has its limitations. Misrepresenting yourself in a business setting borders on fraud, especially if you use deception to secure a client or a contract that requires a partner who can perform at a higher level.
As for Joe, someone who is naturally enthusiastic, he is making huge strides in his charisma coaching. His focus on humility and authentic relationships with friends, family and clients means that he has no need for fancy cars and gold watches anymore. But he does admit that he still flies first class because, let’s face it, flying coach is the pits.