Updated: Jan 31, 2021
A Vice President of a major aftermarket auto parts supplier once told me, “Even in our best days we are pretending we know something. The point is to not show that you are pretending.” This was strange, but true advice for the meeting we were about to be a part of. We did not want the other side to know that we did not have a clue as to what they wanted or if this meeting would even amount to anything. We could not show that because we did not want to lose any leverage we may have. The meeting ended with no one showing their cards and eventually the company we met with encountered a tough financial period. Even if our terms were agreed upon, they would not have been able hold their end, so in the end “pretending” worked in this situation. We did not reveal our position or the fact that we didn't know how this may play out and none were the wiser. After the meeting I pondered this thought. If in our best days we are pretending, this means that most meetings at any level; corporate, regional, small business or government, are filled with people who are some of the best gamblers and don't even know it.
I will never forget this experience and often remember it. This was one of the best leadership teachings and experiences in my life. The psychological insight that was gained here reveals a lot into the human mind, and how many of us in our best days are simply pretending.
I titled this post, Imposter, because of the thoughts of the above interaction and after reading Brennan Manning's book, Abbas Child. The first chapter in this book which is titled “Imposter” especially impacted this post. Now the whole book is deeply profound and caused me to reflect on my life in ways that I did not expect.
Brennan Manning does an eloquent job through the tale of Leonard Zelig, a Woody Allen character from Zelig, telling the story of a man with a weak personality and assumes the identity of those with stronger personalities around him. Along with his personality, his physical appearance changes to match the person with the most dominant personality. Through this tale of Leonard Zelig, I reflected on my life and saw times when I have done this, not to the extent of changing physically, but certainly acting and even talking like someone else. It is a very revealing portrayal of how some people, including myself at times, can find themselves doing what the 'Alpha or lead' person is doing and at the same time potentially losing themselves or their own identity.
When I was a young chef, I saw the egos of many men and women push down on those under them. They did this to try to conform their subordinates into what they wanted others to be, which was just like them. When we are young, we need to learn how to follow those who are leading, but it does not mean to conform and lose your own identity. A good leader inspires others to follow and simultaneously help those they are leading to discover themselves.
The imposter revealed to me that throughout my life, not all the time, that I would find myself in situations where I was almost losing my own identity and assuming the likes and dislikes of others. I am not referring to friends liking and disliking similar things. I am referring to being around a strong personality or strong leaders who do not have the foresight or intuition in lifting others up. They are led by insecurities, and want conformity, rather than helping others become who they should be, not a clone of insecurities.
I read a story from Gerry Sandusky who announces football games, for the Baltimore Ravens, at a local TV station. He shared some thoughts on the passing of Don Shula. Don, a former football coach, worked with Gerry’s Dad who was the offensive line coach at the time. Gerry’s dad said this, “Don Shula was the single most amazing leader of men I have ever been around. I have never seen another coach who would elevate the people around him like coach Shula”. This made me think. Would Coach Shula have noticed this imposter trait or insecurities in someone? If noticed, what would he have done to help them grow? How would he have elevated them up to walk in their own identity? This might be a question for us to ponder as individuals and leaders. Are our insecurities being pushed on to the those who we are leading?
This façade that is found in the Imposter can do immense danger to the individual. You can lose yourself, waking up years later to the revelation of what happened and now be full of regret, anger and even rage. This is not so much a warning about what not to do, but a call to reflection. This requires each of us to look in the mirror and see if we are doing this to ourselves, as well as those who we are directly leading or who we are in immediate leadership over.
I will close with a few questions.
1. Have you let the opinions of others shape and/or change you? (Good or bad)
2. Are your opinions shaping others around you? (Good or bad)