Faking It vs. Leading It

Here is a collection of tweets that contrasts the difference between pretend-leaders and actual leaders. Pretend leaders act for the benefit of themselves; true leaders act for the benefit of those they lead.


Faking it: Having aides “walk back” inflammatory remarks

Leading it: Speaking coherently, concisely and with consistency


Faking it: Surrounding yourself with people who cheer your every word.

Leading it: Engage with people who disagree to find mutual benefits.


Faking it: Bloviating. Bragging. Boasting.

Leading it: Letting your deeds speak for themselves.


Faking it: Deny reality.

Leading it: Confront reality.


Faking it: Surrounding yourself with people who talk about how smart you are

Leading it: Making it safe for people to disagree with you.


Faking it: Saying everything is fine because you say it is

Leading it: Looking for problems and finding them so you can mobilize solutions


Faking it: Peddling untruths to obfuscate reality

Leading it: Telling the truth… even when it hurts.


Faking it: Questioning the motives of those who criticize

Leading it: Investigating the reasons for criticism


Faking it: Conflating activity with productivity

Leading it: Holding people accountable for results


Faking it: Pitting direct-reports against one another

Leading it: Expecting direct-reports to cooperate, coordinate & collaborate


Faking it: Using confrontation to bully everyone who disagrees with you

Leading it: Confronting problems that threaten to erode integrity


Faking it: Blaming others for mistakes that occur on your watch

Leading it: Accepting responsibility for actions of others you supervise


Faking it: Believing that temperament is “winning.”

Leading it: Knowing that temperament is demeanor and deportment.


Faking it: Considering “shooting from the lip” a sign of strength

Leading it: Choosing words carefully because they have consequences


Faking it: Expecting people to “owe” you their loyalty

Leading it: Earning loyalty by treating people with respect


Faking it: Radiating desperate insecurity with every insult

Leading it: Ignore the “noise.” Focus on the work.


Faking it: Acting tough for the sake of expediency.

Leading it: Using a moral compass as your guide.


Faking it: I am the solution to YOUR problem.

Leading it: We are the solutions to OUR problems.


Faking it: One step forward, two steps back. Half-step forward.

Leading it: One step forward, one step back. Two steps ahead.


Faking it: Promoting yourself in front of people who serve you

Leading it: Honoring the people who make you and your organization succeed.


Faking it: Invoking a higher power in whose values you do not abide

Leading it: Making certain your example reflects values of higher power


Faking it: Talking up your personal success

Leading it: Praising the good work of your team


Faking it: Obsessing over trivia while ignoring the big picture

Leading it: Focusing on the big picture and ignoring distractions


Faking it: Punching back at every criticism, no matter how trivial

Leading it: Ignoring “noise” because you value comportment


Faking it: Fixating on feuds and “getting even”

Leading it: Focusing on doing the job right


Faking it: Attack the messenger when faced with bad news

Leading it: Deal with bad news by finding solutions


Faking it: Creating distractions that turn focus away from problems

Leading it: Focusing on real problems and ignoring distractions


Faking it: Promoting rumor and innuendo but crying foul if turned against you

Leading it: Speaking the truth or saying nothing at all


Faking it: Becoming unglued at the first hint of crisis

Leading it: Radiating calm because your people expect you to be strong


Faking it: Focusing on yourself because that’s all you know.

Leading it: Thinking big. Challenging your people to do even bigger.


Faking it: Wasting time on getting even with “enemies”

Leading it: Focusing on what you can do for those you lead to make things better

Faking it: Expecting people to support you after you incited hatred

Leading it: Earning the support through your example and actions


Faking it: Using humiliation as a weapon against the weak

Leading it: Practicing humility as a virtue


Faking it: Believing that you can buy loyalty

Leading it: Understanding that loyalty is earned through example


Faking it: Worrying about the size of the decorations on the cake

Leading it: Making certain everyone has his/her piece OF the cake


Faking it: Worrying about personal slights because you are focused on image

Leading it: Focusing your energy on making a positive difference


Faking it: Putting personal interest ahead of the organization

Leading it: Understanding that conflicts of interest ARE conflicts.


Faking it: Talking tough to cover deep insecurities

Leading it: Projecting confidence because you who you are and what you can do


Faking it: Believing you are the solution for every problem

Leading it: Putting strong people into positions to do their best


Faking it: Make every issue about yourself

Leading it: Be accountable for your actions… and their consequences


Faking it: Blustering to hide deep insecurities

Leading it: Radiating confidence that comes from a centered-self


Faking it: Gloating in triumph becuz you think it makes you strong

Leading it: Exercising magnanimity over a defeated foe becuz it’s right


Faking it: Using your authority to make things difficult for those who cannot fight back

Leading it: Standing up for rights of all


Faking it: Refusing to change course because you put ego ahead of truth

Leading it: Acknowledging change when reality dictates it


Faking it: Believing that autocracy is leadership

Leading it: Knowing that our Founders fought a Revolution against autocracy



Faking it: Aligning yourself with people of questionable ethics

Leading it: Understanding that integrity is the foundation of trust


Faking it: Believing that talking tough is the same as being tough

Leading it: “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”


Faking it: Embracing suspect POVs that disrupt governance

Leading it: Understand that logic and reason are the foundation of governance


Faking it: Dismissing facts that conflict with your POV

Leading it: Understanding that opinions can change; facts do not


Faking it: Believing that ignorance is defensible

Leading it: Firing people who hide behind their ignorance


Faking it: Acting the role of expert when it is clear you are winging it

Leading it: Surrounding yourself w/people who know more than you


Faking it: Deny, deny, deny

Leading it: Seeking and promoting the truth. Always.



Faking it: Making excuses to assuage your ego

Leading it: Working to get thing right because others depend upon your actions


Faking it: Believing what you say is reality

Leading it: Understanding that your assumptions may be just that… assumptions.


Faking it: Talking what you say rather than what you do

Leading it: Letting your actions speak louder than your words


Faking it: Believing that power makes you smart

Leading it: Sharing information becuz you know that power shared is power gained


Faking it: Stating you know more about the issues than anyone

Leading it: Questioning assumptions that challenge your POV


Faking it: Looking down on those you are supposed to lead

Leading it: Looking forward to bringing people together because you are a leader


Faking it: Praising a rival who breaks the law

Leading it: Regarding those who break the law as criminals… plain and simple
Faking it: Praising people who feed your ego

Leading it: Surrounding yourself with those who will speak truth to power


Faking it: Believing that flattery means people believe in you

Leading it: Understanding that flattery is just noise… and to be ignored


Faking it: Insisting your POV supersedes facts

Leading it: Believing that facts are not opinions


Faking it: Talking up what you did for the team

Leading it: Shining the spotlight on those who do the work


Faking it: Talking tough because you think it makes you strong

Leading it: Letting your bold actions speak for themselves


Faking it: Using fear to stir dissension

Leading it: Working hard to bring people together for common cause


Faking it: Hiring people who are unqualified but who profess loyalty

Leading it: Promoting people who are competent and can do the job right


Faking it: Dismissing the need for apology because you think it makes you weak

Leading it: Making amends to those you have harmed


Faking it: Quibbling over details especially when you are offended

Leading it: Focusing on the big picture and the hell with everything else


Faking it: Finding blame for others when things go wrong

Leading it: Finding solutions in order to fix problems


Faking it: Denigrating your opponents because you think it makes you stronger

Leading it: Seeking to build bridges to those who oppose you


Faking it: Gloating because you think it makes you look stronger

Leading it: Getting down to business because it’s your job


Faking it: Avoiding responsibility by deflecting and distracting

Leading it: Being accountable always


Faking it: Dismissing news you don’t like as “false”

Leading it: Pursuing the truth because some issues transcend individuals


Faking it: Talking about how “smart” you are

Leading it: Letting your actions speak for your intelligence


Faking it: Promoting people who flatter you

Leading it: Hiring people who speak truth to power


Faking it: Equating grandstanding with governing

Leading it: Understanding that leadership is more than playing to an audience


Faking it: Disregarding a reality that does not conform to your world view

Leading it: Embracing truth when in conflict with your POV


Faking it: Boasting about what you have achieved

Leading it: Praising the accomplishments of others


Faking it: “Punching down” at the “little people” who criticize you

Leading it: Upholding the rights of all people … even your critics


Faking it: Putting “fact-free zealots” into positions of power

Leading it: Insisting that executives understand reality and its consequences


Faking it: Believing whatever you say is the “truth”

Leading it: Understanding that leadership w/o truth is a lie


Faking it: Surrounding yourself with people who never challenge you

Leading it: Demanding that people challenge your assumptions


Faking it: Showing off so you get credit for “everything”

Leading it: Making a positive difference without seeking credit for anything


Faking it: Saying a bully is “different” in private

Leading it: Understanding that a bully with manners is still a bully


Faking it: Embracing someone whom you condemned b/c they lacked integrity

Leading it: Living your values even when it makes you “unpopular”


Faking it: Parading job candidates in front of the cameras as a means of showing off

Leading it: Keep job interviews private until hiring



Faking it: Complaining when you are criticized.

Leading it: Learning from feedback so you can improve.



Faking it: Celebrating a win by praising yourself

Leading it: Marking victory by lauding the contributions of others


Faking it: Putting principles aside when they are “inconvenient”

Leading it: Living by your principles when they are hard to abide


Faking it: Failing to recognize when it’s time to step down

Leading it: Grooming your successor and making a graceful handoff


Faking it: Enjoying the title w/o earning responsibility that accompanies it

Leading it: Embracing responsibility without care for a title


Faking it: Making things up to make your own reality

Leading it: Making certain you have your facts straight



Faking it: Changing your opinion because you want to be liked

Leading it: Standing up for your principles even when others disagree with you


Faking it: Using ignorance as an excuse for action

Leading it: Understanding the issues and then acting


Faking it: Thinking the media’s job is to report how great you are

Leading it: Believing the media’s job is to hold leaders accountable


Faking it: Being thin-skinned because you think the world owes you respect

Leading it: Earning respect because you set a positive example


Faking it: Believing flattery is sincere appreciation

Leading it: Knowing that flattery is nothing more than sucking up


Faking it: Acting as if you are unopposed

Leading it: Stepping aside to let new voices be heard


Faking it: Taking credit for something others did without you

Leading it: Sharing credit with those who did the work


Faking it: Saying that people who promote racist views are good colleagues

Leading it: Disavowing the views of those who traffic in hate


Faking it: Pretending that bigotry and sexism is normal politics

Leading: Standing up for rights of all… even those with whom you disagree


Faking it: Pointing fingers when things don’t go your way

Leading it: Owning the consequences of your actions


Faking it: Lying because you think it makes you smart

Leading it: Telling the truth even when it hurts you


Faking it: Using anger to promote division and discord

Leading it: De-escalating anger to promote justice and understanding



Faking it: Reject everything that does not conform to your POV

Leading it: Seeking to understand what is foreign to your POV



Faking it: Embracing ideas of fear, rejection and hatred

Leading it: Living values of integrity, trust and dignity


Faking it: Your aides apologize for your mistakes

Leading in: You apologize for your own mistakes


Faking it: Seeing the world from your own personal perspective

Leading it: Seeing the world how others view it, too.


Faking it: Boasting that you have all the answers

Leading it: Knowing you need counsel of people smarter than yourself


Faking it: Failing to learn from mistakes

Leading it: Embracing mistakes as learning experiences


Faking it: Making things up as you go to make yourself look important

Leading it: Remembering that words and actions have consequences


Faking it: Talking more than you do.

Leading it: Doing more than you speak.


Faking it: Talking tough to people who cannot protect themselves

Leading it: Standing up for the rights of those most in need of protection


Faking it: Bragging about what you do

Leading it: Honoring the service of others


Faking It: Claiming you have all the answers

Leading It: Soliciting the advice and counsel of others


Faking it: Ignoring bad behavior of followers

Leading it: Rebuking bad behavior of followers


Faking It: Deflect, Deny, Denigrate

Leading: Transparent, Truthful, Trusted [10.30.16]


VIDEO: Speak First to Declare the High Ground

I have always advised leaders to be the last to speak up about important issues to allow others to state their points of view.

But sometimes a leader must be the first to speak up, as Abraham Lincoln did when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and linked the cause of preserving the Union with the abolition of slavery.

Such a measure had three key elements: importance, impact and integrity.

First posted on SmartBrief on 1/10/2014

What It Takes to Lead Now (HBR)

A majority of managers just don’t understand what it means to be a leader.

That’s a conclusion that I draw from a recent global survey by McKinsey and Company about what it takes to manage corporate performance. Only 48% of managers surveyed believed that they need to inspire and only 46% believed it was their responsibility to provide direction during this crisis. The numbers for inspiration and direction actually drop to 45% and 39% respectively when considered as behaviors for how to manage post-crisis.

More troubling, only 30% of managers felt that they needed to motivate their employees during the crisis and just 23% did post-crisis. The need for accountability ranked low too, just 23% for crisis and only 18% post-crisis. Innovation also ranked low, just 33% believed it was necessary now, but some 46% did believe it was necessary post-crisis.

If a majority of managers do not feel that inspiration and direction are necessary for managing corporate performance, and that motivation and accountability are not essential, then our companies are in far worse shape than imagined.

The study does not measure what I believe most managers think their jobs are: getting things done. But execution without adequate leadership is short-sighted. It will carry a company through a quarter or a year, but it will not provide a foundation for what organizations really need to do, and that is to grow. Leadership requires foresight as well as the ability to execute. Foresight points you in the right direction so that your execution can serve customer needs now and lay the foundation for continued service.

Therefore, it is necessary to reframe what inspiration and direction means.

Click here to read more:

First posted on HBR.org 11/13/2009

VIDEO: Leaders Seeking to Re-Energize Don’t Need to Go It Alone

So what do you do when you hit the wall?

Sometimes it is not simply fatigue but symptom of something deeper. You feel that you are lacking in creativity and, as a result, you are not challenging yourself or your team to achieve their best. You need help!

So find a partner — someone you can trust to give you good advice. Here’s how you can make it work. Every leader owes it to him or herself to keep challenged, focused, and energized. A good partner can help.

First posted on SmartBrief on 1/24/2014


How Communication Drives Performance (HBR)

“Courage, innovation and discipline help drive company performance especially in tough economic times. Effective internal communications can keep employees engaged in the business and help companies retain key talent, provide consistent value to customers, and deliver superior financial performance to shareholders.”
Watson Wyatt 2009

According to Watson Wyatt’s newest communication survey for 2009/2010, companies that are effective communicators “have the courage to talk about what employees want to hear,” “redefine the employment deal based on changing business conditions,” and have “the discipline to plan effectively and measure their progress effectively.”

Does this really matter? Yes. The study shows that companies that communicate effectively had a 47% higher return to shareholders over a five-year period (mid-2004 to mid-2009).

The link between communication and these three levers of performance — courage, innovation, and discipline — is a welcome one. These are themes that I have written about, taught and coached for years. Here is how you can utilize them in the workplace.

Courage. Watson Wyatt defines it as “telling it like it is.” This is especially true when it comes to delivering straight talk. Shielding employees from bad news is akin to treating them like children; it says they are not “grown up” enough to handle tough stuff. So why do companies do it? One reason is because they feel employees will lose heart and then underperform. The Watson Wyatt study shows just the opposite. Tell people what they need to know and they will reward you with solid performance.

Click here to read more:

First posted on HBR.org on 11/19/2009


VIDEO: Managing Well by Leading Better

Management — a client once told me — is your day job; leadership is your career.

Managers by nature are pragmatists; leaders are dreamers. Organizations need both types to survive. Managers are required to lead and leaders are expected to manage. It is a challenge to do both well. The higher one rises in an organization, the greater are the responsibilities.

Therefore, managers learn to delegate and in doing so free themselves to be more strategic and in the process develop the talents of others and grow the capacity of the organization to meet rising challenges.

That’s what we call leadership.

First posted on SmartBrief 2/07/2014


Oprah Winfrey and Your Leadership Brand (HBR)

All leaders have a brand. Whether that term is used or not, leaders have an identifiable persona that is a reflection of what they do and how others perceive them. I call this the leadership brand.

When it comes to cultivating a leadership brand, look no further than Oprah Winfrey, who recently announced that she would be ending her popular talk show in 2011. In a perceptive analysisNew York Times media columnist David Carr suggests that Winfrey’s brand and the key to her longevity is a combination of things she didn’t do as well as things that she did do.

On the “don’t do side,” she did not over-merchandize nor take her company public; she kept control of her products and thereby her image, unlike Martha Stewart. On the “do side,” she always stayed true to herself. As she told her business partner Gayle King years ago, “I don’t know what the future holds but I know who holds it.”

The lessons of Oprah’s brand are relevant to any leader. First and foremost, understand that brand is what you develop as well as what others perceive. The balance between reality and perception can be shaky if you are not careful, but as we have seen from Oprah, not impossible.

Click here to read more:

First posted on HBR.org  11/25/2009

VIDEO: Sound of Your Leadership Speech

Think of a speech as a piece of music.

Like a piece of music, it has melody, harmony and rhythm. Melody rises and lowers according to the notes, i.e. the words. Harmonies are a blend of facts and stories blended for meaning.

And tempo, fast or slow, matches mood and meaning. Put more simply, every good speech must have its own signature, a rising and falling according to meaning and a tempo owing to emphasis.

Speech delivery, like playing an instrument, is an art that can be mastered; it simply takes a willingness to try and a commitment to speaking in public whenever you have the opportunity to do it.

First posted on Smart Brief on 2/28/2014

Finding Hope in Troubled Times (HBR)

I’ve heard executives say that they have never seen things as bad as they are now. Even as the economy shows signs of recovery, it is by no means certain that recovery will be a linear process.

In these troubled times, it is useful to recall examples of leaders who have survived adversity. One of my favorites, and one whom I have written about extensively, is Winston Churchill. For our times the Churchill most apt is not the Prime Minister of 1940 who rallied Britain as the sole force against the Nazis. Rather it is the Churchill of 1915, tossed from the cabinet after the debacle of Dardanelles, an ill-fated plan to knock Turkey out of the Great War.

As we learn in Paul Johnson’s splendid new biography, Churchill at age 40 found himself very much alone and reviled. So what did he do? He “brooded” for a bit; his wife Clementine said “I thought he would die of grief.” But then to his great delight, Churchill found a new hobby — painting. And through his art, for which he exhibited great talent, he reconnected himself. Rejuvenated, he enlisted in the Army and served on the Front in France for six months of 1915-16. Later Churchill re-entered politics, and from there continued his public life.

Click here to read more:

First posted on HBR.org 21/03/2009