They can smell fake

While waiting for a recent flight, I had the pleasure of speaking to a gentleman named Dustin.  He is a 6th grade teacher in Florida and I could tell that Dustin is a guy who loves his job, enjoys helping and teaching kids and truly wants to make a difference in the lives and futures of those around him.

At one point, the conversation turned to those teachers who didn’t display the same attitude, and how they seemed to complain a lot and generally blamed the kids, the administration, and the parents for their bad experience (and attitude) as teachers.

Dustin then went on to talk about how this impacts the students.

“The kids can tell.  They don’t respond well to people who don’t seem to care.  They can smell fake.”

My first thought was, “like a dog can smell fear”?

“Sort of”, Dustin said.  “They can tell when someone isn’t genuine, and they react to that with their behavior toward the teachers and fellow students, and you can even see in their grades.”

My second thought was, 6th graders aren’t the only ones who can smell fake.  Our employees are pretty good at it, too.

Which brings me to this: leaders are like teachers.  It’s a TOUGH gig to fake.  I think fewer people are successful at “faking it until they make it” than they care to admit.

But there are plenty of people in leadership roles who, for one reason or another, have no business being there.  The process that put them there is another blog for another time.  I would rather focus on identifying the fakes and finding a different path for their talents.

And by the way, I don’t necessarily fault the fakes (yet).  Again, the system that put them there might have been broken, or they may have thought it was the right move at the time.  It’s those that have identified that they are faking their way through that need a swift kick in the pants.

Here is what I have seen fake, ingenuous, I’d-rather-be-somewhere-else type of leaders do that impact their credibility, trustworthiness and ability to be respected.

  • Inconsistent behavior – The ol’ Jekyll and Hyde.  “I wonder who is showing up today?” is a common question from employees.  Employees find it hard to trust people when they don’t know what the reaction will be if they ask a question or make a suggestion.
  • Haphazard policy enforcement – probably comes from the inconsistent behavior above, but what does it say when a leader decides to enforce a policy, rule or deadline one day, but the next day completely ignores it? Hard to know where you stand.
  • Poor communication – In my experience, I attribute 99% of all leadership issues to communication… lack of, too much, or incomplete.  When your heart and mind really aren’t in the game, it’s tough to muster the energy and patience needed to listen, convey the proper message and listen some more.

If this sounds like you, please gather your belongings and head for the exit.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  You are not doing yourself or your employees any favors by being fake and inconsistent.  Should you quit without another job to go to?  That’s up to you and your bank account, but PLEASE start looking for something that will truly align with your strengths and interests.

If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your employees.  They deserve a leader who will openly communicate and LEAD them to greatness – not fake their way to mediocrity.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: In just a few weeks, Matt and his coaster nerd buddies will be embarking on their annual coaster extravaganza! This year they’ll be in California, visiting Disneyland, California Adventure, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain.  Blog, Twitter and Facebook posts to follow!

5 thoughts on “They can smell fake

  1. I got some negativity in a training class once when i said trainers might have to fake a positive attitude in training some time if they just aren’t feeling it. Trainees don’t necessarily care if you burned your tost before you came into work. They want to know you care about them, so be positive even if you don’t feel that way. This person said that felt artificial. we left it as agreeing to disagree.

    • That is a tough one… I think if you find you are having to fake it too much (and you can’t get over the burnt toast), maybe that role isn’t for you. If they are feeling that artificial (and not positive), maybe it goes beyond the toast, maybe they don’t believe in what they are training (or some other aspect of the work experience)?

      To me there is a difference in ‘the show must go on’ and ‘faking it until you make it.’ I get the impression you were asking that person to put on the show no matter what… that’s not fake, that’s choosing to set aside your personal trials for the experience of others. Faking it implies doing something you don’t (and may never) believe in.

      There is an underlying passion that takes over when people who really love what they do are put in troubling situations… it brings out their best ‘show’ no matter the circumstances. I know I have been in situations where I let the little things impact my judgement and performance, and learned to take that as a signal that maybe I shouldn’t be doing those things – so I stopped! :o)

      On the other hand, I’ve had some pretty discouraging situations happen before or between training sessions that I was doing. I never let that show to the trainees, but I never felt fake, either. Maybe it’s the performer (drummer) in me. I took a deep breath and knew that the show must go on!

      Thanks so much for your comment, Donna!

      • Thanks Matt – good to read your other viewpoints. It helps me see things from a side i hadn’t considered.

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