You’ve probably heard the saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” It’s actually one of my least favorite sayings. It’s a catchy but destructive idea that does more harm than good, and here’s why:
You can’t truly “make it” if you don’t have integrity.
And integrity is the opposite of fake. It literally means being whole and undivided – being the same on the inside as you are on the outside. If “fake it ‘til you make it” is a philosophy that you live by, then you’re setting yourself up for failure in the long run.
But I understand why people have embraced this notion. We live in a culture that rewards image – often over integrity. We promote people who appear to have their act together, and encourage others to do the same. Never mind any warning signs about their character. As long as they look good while they produce, our culture is satisfied.
Why is that? Why do we reward image over integrity?
The answer is simple: Image is easy. Integrity is hard.
Now, don’t let the word hard scare you. After all, you undoubtedly know that everything worthwhile is uphill. You understand that it takes discipline and time to achieve things that are of lasting value. Integrity is the same. It’s the sum of all of your decisions over time; when you choose each day to live according to the standards you set for yourself, you build integrity on the inside and in the minds of the people around you.
Integrity is essential for a leader, because people will not willingly follow someone they cannot trust. And trust is built when you consistently act according to your beliefs. When you have integrity, you have what management expert Peter Drucker called “the final requirement of effective leadership.”
So how can you make sure you are building your integrity in a culture of image? Here are three questions you should ask yourself in order to maintain your integrity:
Am I Being True to Myself?
Living with integrity begins within. The only person in the world you can’t hide from is you. To be a genuine person, you have to be able to live with yourself and the decisions you make. If your actions would cause you shame or embarrassment if they were ever found out, then you’re not being true to yourself and your values. If you feel the need to hide your actions from others, the first person you’re deceiving is yourself.
Am I Being True to My Mentor?
Mentors are the people who have chosen to invest in you. They believe in you and your potential, and have shared their time and wisdom to help you maximize it. If your actions would disappoint them, then you’re not putting enough value on your mentor’s investment. You’re shortcutting the process, and hurting both yourself and your mentor.
Am I Being True to My People?
You are surrounded by people who are affected by your actions. Be they family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors, your choices impact them on a daily basis. If you are not living a genuine life with them, it will ultimately damage the relationships that you need to thrive.
It’s easy to believe that integrity doesn’t really pay off. In fact, that seems to be the message our culture thrives on! Why do things the hard way when you can just “fake it ‘til you make it” - especially when so many people seem to succeed overnight through shortcuts and shams? It’s tempting to believe that you can or should do the same. After all, everyone wants to get to the top, so why not take the fastest route?
Here is the reality: the fastest way to the top won’t keep you there. People who shortchange their internal character inevitably fall. And when they do, it’s always a long drop back to the bottom – and a much steeper climb the second time around. If you want to get to the top and stay there, the key is integrity. Sure, it takes time, and it often feels like an unnoticed effort, but be patient. Integrity always pays off in the end.
I love this quote from Ann Landers: “People of integrity expect to be believed. They also know time is on their side and are willing to wait.” Your integrity is the foundation for lasting achievement. If you build it, success and significance will come. And you’ll be able enjoy them for a long time.
Like most of the world, I’ve had my eye on the Olympics for the last week or so. While I’ve not caught every event, I’ve certainly enjoyed stealing as much time as I can to watch as the world’s greatest athletes take their place on the global stage. And as I watch each event, from swimming and gymnastics to basketball and judo, I can’t help thinking of one question:
How do these athletes handle the pressure?
Now, I’m no stranger to pressure. I live with it every day as a leader. I’m sure you do, too. But when I think about the margin between a gold medal and a silver medal – often just a few hundredths of a second – the pressure I deal with somehow feels a little… less.
You see, the Olympic Games place tremendous pressure on athletes to produce, on demand, for posterity. They train for years for that one moment, usually with coaches who are some of the best minds in their sport. These athletes must learn specific skills that help them not only master their sport, but take their performance to levels previously unachieved. Then they spend months or years prior to the Olympics participating in events to not only qualify for the Games, but also get a feel for their competition.
And the end result of all of this training is efficiency and effectiveness. These athletes do what they do with apparent ease because they have trained and prepared so well.
But I believe it’s only the pressure of the Olympics – of knowing that their place in the record books rests on what they do in that one moment – that makes them most effective. All of their training and ability only matters if they can execute in the “right now” of Olympic competition. Because once that moment is over, the only thing the world will have to judge these athletes by is how effective they were when the pressure was on.
How do you handle pressure? You may never be under the same scrutiny as an Olympic athlete, but you face pressure in your own way. It may be a deadline, a new venture, or just knowing that your family depends on you, but you know the feeling of “the weight of the world”.
A former Olympian once said, “Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” That Olympian is Kobe Bryant, one of the most accomplished basketball players of the last 20 years. His dedication to developing his skills and talents is legendary. But what Kobe is also known for is his strong desire to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He doesn’t shy away from the pressure; rather, he embraces it.
I want to encourage you, my friend, to not shy away from the high-pressure moments in your life. Instead, use the pressure to help you produce. Pressure is a sign that what you’re doing counts. It means that your leadership or your work or your life is meaningful. It means you can make a difference.
The eyes of the world may not be trained on you, but you have the ability to impact the world. Trust your training, embrace your pressure, and do your best. When you do, you’ll be amazed at just how many people you’ll find cheering you on.
As a leader, you’re already aware that your ability to positively influence another person is the central component of your leadership. So you understand that influence matters to leaders.
But how do you measure your influence? By the number of people who work for you? By the number of followers you have on Twitter? By the number of likes you get on Facebook?
While there is some validity to those numbers, chances are that you’re missing something if you measure influence only in that way. Because there are dozens of people - perhaps even hundreds - that you influence without ever knowing it. They help you bag your groceries. They pick up your trash. They might deliver your mail, or drive next to you on the road. They pass you in the halls at your child’s school, or ride the elevator with you on the way to the office.
And these possibly unnoticed individuals are impacted by you in ways you may never know.
One of my favorite quotes on influence comes from J.R. Miller. In fact, I use it in the first chapter of my book, Developing the Leader Within You: “There have been meetings of only a moment which have left impressions for life, for eternity. No one can understand that mysterious thing we call influence…yet…every one of us continually exerts influence, either to heal, to bless, to leave marks of beauty; or to wound, to hurt, to poison, to stain other lives.”
I love that line: meetings of only a moment which have left impressions for life, for eternity.
Have you ever taken time to think about your life in that way? You impact people on a daily basis by how you choose to live.
Your life is influence in motion.
I understand that anyone can have a bad day. It happens to all of us. But how many bad days might you cut out of a year if you recognized that you have the ability to make a difference to everyone you meet?
Your capacity to transform someone’s life every day is rooted in your choice to make a positive impact, even in the most fleeting of moments. When you make it your mission as a leader to value people and add value to them, you are planting the seeds for a harvest of positive change.
So how do you get started?
I recommend you begin with your family. Get up early and make the coffee. Prepare lunch for the kids. Pray over your spouse. Set the tone for them to influence others in a positive way, and you’ll be amazed at just how different the stories around the dinner table will be.
And then imagine what would happen if you expanded that positive influence from there. Imagine if you practiced courtesy during rush hour or were grateful to everyone who served you a meal. Imagine if you held doors, shared credit, and otherwise added value as often as you could, to every person you met. Your level of influence would be off the charts.
At a time when some leaders seem only to care about those who are “for” them, we need leaders who care about everyone. We need leaders who make valuing others a priority instead of a promise. We need leaders who make others better instead of bitter. Our society needs leaders who take special care to consider the unnoticed follower.
In short, we need leaders like you.
You can change the world if you choose to - and I believe you will.