Everyone has an off day. We’re not machines, and we’re subject to influences ranging from small perceived slights to illness to simple changes in the weather. If you’re in some position of leadership, however, you can’t let these affect you.
My son had a wonderful kindergarten teacher, Mary, who I would periodically observe from the floor in the back of her class while waiting for the day to wind down. Mary is a teacher who always bubbles support and love from her smile, patiently letting each new voice learn how to relate their enthusiasm for life in their own way. She kept control of the class through fun and excitement, pulling the strengths of the kids out. I couldn’t help but think that she was born to be a kindergarten teacher. How great is it to do the job you’re born to do?
One day, however, there was something missing. Mary didn’t always smile immediately. Her patience was a little more of a pause to gain a stolen moment than a deliberate reflection. Her enthusiasm was a bit rounded and dull, perhaps even forced. She was still a great teacher, but it didn’t quite feel like the natural expression of herself that I had seen before.
She was faking it.
It was a strange thing to realize, and I was a bit upset by it. Of course, we all have our off days, but what I had seen before was nothing less than amazing. Once you’ve seen the best something just slightly off is a bit of a shock. But that’s when I realized where I was wrong: Mary wasn’t born to be the perfect kindergarten teacher. She is simply a very good teacher, and she learned how to be very good. Some days, she is perfectly “on”, and some days � well, some days she has to fake it.
Any position of leadership, ranging from kindergarten teacher to President, requires you to fake it once in a while. No one is ever completely sure that their decisions are the right ones, and there are times when it’s very unclear that you are doing the right thing at all. Some days you simply don’t feel like being the leader. But in all of these cases, being the leader means faking it to get yourself and the people who look to you for guidance through the situation.
Faking it is not a terrible thing. It means maintaining the control that the world expects you to have. A leadership position is often as much about the need to have someone who is “in charge” as it is actually doing anything of importance. When a natural disaster strikes, the Governor is expected to show up and appear to be in control. Is he or she actually doing anything like fighting fires or rescuing flood victims? Well, no. They are reassuring their people. They are in charge. They are, in short, faking it; even if they have to be as scared as the rest of us, if not more.
Leadership among our species is a complicated thing. Even as kindergartners we need a sense that someone is in charge of the world around us. Our social instincts cause us to put labels on the social groups we belong to, and then to look to some kind of leadership that protects that social group from harm. In bad times, the leadership is more important, even as it becomes more difficult. That’s where faking it has to come in.
There are many kinds of leaders in our lives because we live in many social groups at the same time. Each of these requires some kind of leadership. The kinds of leadership range from the trivially unimportant to ones that we depend on every day. While we can ignore the President, we should never ignore our kindergarten teacher, because Mary is the very best. But even if she has a few off days, she can fake it. She can fake it and still be a very good teacher. That’s even better than being born for the job.