What Have They Really Done Is What Counts

Hello Everyone

Don’t believe what people say until they prove it. Words are a dime a dozen. Real performance is hard. Real people are a minority. Hang out with the real ones and you will become better yourself. Real leaders think about others and  not always about what is in it for them…Enjoy the debates….Lee

3 bad habits of fake leaders — and how to avoid them January 26 2012

There was an interesting movie that came out last year called “The Adjustment Bureau” starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. In it, Damon plays a rising young congressman named David Norris. He’s headed for a big victory in a campaign for the U.S. Senate until a picture comes out of him mooning his fraternity brothers at a college reunion. He loses big and starts giving his supporters the big, inspirational, we’ll-be-back concession speech. He says things like, “Where I grew up, it wasn’t that you got knocked down, it was about what you did when you got back up.”

The crowd initially cheers loudly, but then settles down when Norris tells them what he just said was total BS. They didn’t say that in his neighborhood. His pollsters told him it would play well. Same thing with the striped tie he was wearing and even the amount of scuffing he had on his dress shoes. He pulled back the curtain on how the game was played. It was about learning how to fake being real.

As we enter the height of the political season in the U.S., that speech comes to mind. All of the candidate debates and speeches seem to offer a symposium in how to fake being real. Here are three common habits I’ve noticed so far:

  • Put your game face mask on. When you enter the debate arena or step up to make that big speech, never let them see you sweat. Get that alpha dog body language going and smile so they see all your teeth. Above all else, don’t show any vulnerability.
  • Stick to the poll research. Touch all the bases that appeal to the base. Cover so many things that nothing means anything.
  • Follow the formula. There’s an accepted and expected formula for giving the big speech, so stick to it. At this point, you’ve done it so many times you could do it in your sleep. Of course, there’s a pretty good chance that your audience is asleep with their eyes open. If you’re lucky.

Needless to say, I’m not seriously advocating those techniques. I do, however, see a lot of them showing up in leadership settings outside of politics. Here are three ways to avoid showing up as a leader who’s only pretending to be real:

  • Say how you really feel. Try honesty. It can be so rare that it will set you apart. I’m not arguing for unchecked volcanic eruptions or depth-of-depression soliloquies, but you should share your take on the truth.
  • Draw on your life experience. Stay away from fake or clichéd stories and tell some of your own stories. Tell real stories about real people you know who have overcome challenges, done great work or inspire you in some way. Make a connection that people can relate to.
  • Explain the behaviors behind the clichés. There are lot of clichés that show up in organizational mission statements and values lists. They’re so bland and familiar that they often don’t mean anything and feel fake. Don’t just stop with ”Excellence” or “Commitment.” Share what those words mean to you in terms of real life behavior and outcomes.

What’s your take on leaders who fake being real? How do you see them doing it? Better yet, what tells you a leader is really real?

3 Comments
  1. Lee…
    “Some people can read ‘War and Peace’ and see it as nothing more than an adventure story. Others can read a Bazooka Bubble Gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” – so says the late Mario Puzo. With that I complement you on your talent for gleaning messages from allegorical works – even if it is not entirely what the original author intended.

    The differential you speak of can be summed up. Fake leaders tell people what they want to hear – much like a con-artist. Real leaders tell people what they need to hear. Unfortunately in this era of the self stroked ego it is often easier for the former to get a gig.

    You may enjoy a viewing of “Joyful Noise” with Dolly Parton and Queen Latiffa as it speaks very much to leadership qualities in Channing times such as these.

  2. Lee, I’ve noticed that many (not all!) politicians say one thing and -surprise, surprise! – they are found out in the end as being or meaning something entirely different. As you have said, they seem to put on a “public face” but the minute they are out of view, they seem to forget that they are held accountable for what they have said.
    The same seems to hold true in real life with everyday folk like us. You may have a boss or team leader who is all for progress and team building one moment – but he or she continues in the old way without implementing one new idea based on suggestions from someone else. What do you do with someone like that who is bent on “my way only” ? As a leader, you represent the company or group or whatever. As a politician, you are supposedly representing the ideas and concerns of your constituents who made it possible for you to be in the running or already serving in government in the first place!

  3. Simplicity and consistency of message. Too many fake leaders don’t have those two items and therefore wind up reacting to anything that will make them look bad.

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