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Cartoon: leader on a pedestal in a field

How to Fake Being a Great Leader in Seven Steps

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Becoming a great leader takes time.

Faking it, on the other hand, is easy and you can begin immediately. Just follow these seven steps and everyone will believe you are a great leader. And, according to the principle of "Fake It Until You Make It", if you pretend long enough, you should eventually become a great leader, or at least a rather good one.

So, let's waste no more time − leaders like you are always busy leading. Here are the seven steps.

1. Never read another leadership blog, paper or book again. Never

Great leaders like you do not need to read up on how to be great leaders. Reading up on the topic only suggests you doubt your leadership abilities. You never, ever want your minions to see you reading up on how to be a great leader.

So, do not ever read another leadership blog, article or book again. If someone forwards a blog post like this to you, snort derisively and refuse to even look at the post.

But do read this article, of course, to the very end.

2. Make Decisions

The thing that differentiates leaders from the hoi polloi is that the former make decisions and the latter avoid them. Fortunately, making a decision is remarkably easy to do. Just decide and don't sweat the consequences. That's all. Really. Try it sometime.

Most people are so scared of making decisions at work that they will do anything to avoid deciding, including: holding pointless meetings to brainstorm or gather feedback; demand that their underlings prepare reports with lots of colourful graphs presenting information (apparently, black and white graphs are not as authoritative as the colour ones); and hiring expensive consultants to make even longer reports with even more colourful graphs.

The reason these people are reluctant to decide is they fear they will make the wrong decision and so face consequences. In other words, they are wimps. Leaders are not wimps. You are not a wimp.

As a successful leader friend of mine, who works in finance, once said: "I can make a decision, see it go wrong and fix it before most people can even make a decision." These are wise words and an attitude to emulate.

3. Ask Three Questions then Decide

Some decisions are so big, you need to give them substantial, leader-like thought − or at least pretend to do so. When you are faced with such a decision. Ask three questions and then decide irrespective of whether or not the questions actually help you understand the situation. If, as is likely, the answers to your questions do not provide clarity, do not worry. Do not ask more questions. Do not hold a meeting. Just decide.

Incidentally, the questions you ask do not need to be relevant or even make sense. Indeed, asking obscure, seemingly irrelevant questions gives the impression you are wise and have special, leader-like insight that your followers are too dim to grasp.

If you are not sure what to ask, start with, "What's this going to cost us?" This is always a good, leader-like question that suggests you do not want to waste your precious time or thoughts on irrelevant details.

4. Have a Vision

The only thing better than being a leader is being a visionary leader. You definitely want to be one of these. So, find yourself a good vision.

Avoid wussy, meaningless visions like "we flog great products at great prices". Only a loser would come up with a vision like that and you are not a loser. You are a leader.

"Transforming the way we think about personal transportation", for example, is a good, sexy vision − provided, of course, your business is about personal transportation. If it is not, replace "personal transportation" with whatever your business does.

If you are having trouble coming up with a great vision, I suggest a couple glasses of Portuguese red wine, ideally from the Alentejo region. Alentejo reds are remarkably inspirational. You could also hire me. But, Portuguese red wine is cheaper.

5. Delegate Everything

Great leaders never actually do anything. Instead, they delegate every single task. This is why the best leaders are able to transform their businesses, be on dozens of boards, attend glamorous functions, write their autobiographies and have affairs. They delegate all of these things to others − except maybe the affairs.

If you do not have the resources to delegate everything, start by delegating the stuff you know nothing about. Then tell the people, to whom you have delegated these tasks, that "I trust you completely. Do what needs to be done and report back to me regularly. Include colourful graphs in your reports." Such a command sounds marvellously leader-like, motivates the person you've just got to do your job and pretty much hides the fact that you have no idea what she is doing on your behalf.

6. Compliment Everyone

The big mistake that most incompetent wannabe leaders make is believing that criticising others makes them look good. They are wrong. It makes them look pathetic, insecure and whiny. Great leaders understand that compliments are not only motivating, but make the complimentee think more highly of the complimenter. That can only burnish your leadership credentials. So compliment widely, even when it is undeserved.

7. Exude Confidence

cartoon: boy making faces at leader-like businessmanAppearing confident is an important aspect of leadership and one of the hardest characteristics to fake. It is hard, for example, to make a multimillion dollar decision when you do not know what you are doing. It is challenging to speak to a large crowd when you dislike public speaking. It is particularly difficult to lead when things go wrong. This is probably why a lot of CEOs hide booze in their offices. A shot of whisky can provide temporary confidence even when the world around you seems to be going to hell.

However, booze is not a good long term solution. Instead, practice standing up straight, squaring your shoulders and looking people in the eyes even when you talk with them − even when are not sure what you are talking about. You will appear more and more confident.

This is something that you should practice first as you would not want to be looking someone in the eye in a leader-like way and suddenly forget what you are saying, burst into laughter or vomit. Those are all very un-leader-like.

Practice appearing confident in the mirror. Then practice with friends and family. Ideally, practice with little kids as they will make funny faces at you. If you can feel confident while a child makes funny faces at you, you can demonstrate confidence in any situation.

Before you know it, you will be able to talk complete nonsense with complete confidence. From then on, it is easy to fake being a great leader.

That's It

That's it. It is all you have to do to fake being a great leader. Now, share this article with colleagues and friends to imply their leadership skills are not up to scratch and that they need a little help.

And then never, ever read another blog post on leadership again. Okay?

Pathetic Self Promotion

This Article Would Also Make for a Fun Keynote or Workshop

"How to fake being a great leader" can be delivered as an entertaining keynote speech or interactive workshop. It's just the thing to liven up a businesslike annual meeting or special event. Learn more about this and other unbusinessy workshops and keynotes here or get in touch!

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