‘Fake it til you make it,’ and other terrible leadership advice

August 3, 2023
leadership advice

In the vast and ever-evolving landscape of professional growth, we often find ourselves navigating through a tangled jungle of advice, opinions, and recommendations. Amidst the cacophony of guidance, we must exercise caution and discernment. Because while being open to advice is essential, knowing how to distinguish the diamonds from the debris of bad advice can be the make-or-break factor in our quest for success.

In this article, we will shine a spotlight on some of the bad advice shared with us from real leaders in our community. Advice that while we’re sure was meant with the best intentions, you should nonetheless sidestep in your own journey. 

So, buckle up your metaphorical boots and prepare to journey through the jungle of leadership advice. 

Fake it until you make it

Yasmin Sckeyde (she/her), General Manager Legal & Commercial at Rheinmetall Defence Australia shares…

The worst two pieces of advice I ever received were ‘fake it until you make it’ and ‘don’t admit your weaknesses’. 

From my perspective these are both terrible pieces of advice because by following these two mantras, you lack authenticity as a leader and miss learning opportunities. To be an inspiring and engaging leader, you should rather embrace authenticity (be your honest self) and seize learning opportunities. 

As a leader it is important to act with integrity and build trust within a team. ‘Faking it’ or pretending you have the competence or confidence undermines the trust and authenticity that are required for successful leadership. 

Also ‘faking it’ or ‘not admitting your weaknesses’ hinders personal and professional learning opportunities. No one knows the answer to everything… this is why we work in teams! 

So, in summary – lead authentically. Be a humble and honest leader, who might not know everything, but is willing to learn along the way.

You’ll be better off quitting while you raise your family

Aline Frantzen, Chief Operating Officer at Metro Trains Melbourne shares…

In my career I’ve noticed that women are often given advice without even really asking for it! Some of the worst advice I received was when I was pregnant with my second child and a colleague was overjoyed for me that I was finally able to quit my job and ‘stay at home’ now that I had two children. 

The advice was that of course I could keep working with one child, but now that I had a second one, I would obviously want to consider moving on from working and into being a stay-at-home mother and housewife.

It never occurred to this person that the advice that I would be ‘better off’ quitting my job now I had a second child was feeding the stereotype that women work towards the opportunity to not work. They were sincerely overjoyed that I now had a genuine excuse to no longer continue my career and were happy to suggest as much.

This was a decade ago, but I’m still hearing these kinds of stories to this day. I hear people giving advice to women who are about to go on parental leave or have just returned that they may want to reconsider applying for particular positions because of the demands of the role, instead of allowing the woman to make the decision based on her own personal circumstances. 

Stereotypes aren’t always held with malice, and often people fall into the trap of offering advice thinking they are being helpful when, really, they are simply unconsciously reinforcing gender inequality. In my opinion, advice is simply a reflection of another person’s failures and learnings and should be taken onboard only if it strengthens someone’s authenticity, not diminishes it.

All managers are leaders, aren’t they?

Connie McIntosh, Head of Security, Market Area South East Asia, Oceania & India at Ericsson shares…

The worst piece of advice I ever heard is that ‘Leadership is assigned to a job role’. That can be true in some cases. However, if you have ever had a ‘bad’ manager then you will understand that not all managers make good leaders. 

In some experiences with not-so-great leaders, I have seen teams left directionless or the direction is constantly changing, there is no feedback, or the feedback is biased/untrue, and the team morale is low. The leader influences the team culture either for bad or for good. 

Great leaders inspire and motivate their team, they take an interest in the success of each member of the team. They lead with integrity, drive, and embrace change, take ownership of issues, demonstrate emotional intelligence, pursue personal growth, and empower their team members to reach their full potential. 

My best advice is to be your authentic self and lead from the heart. Treat people with respect and kindness. Praise whenever you have the opportunity and celebrate team successes. Leadership is an honor where you get to help your team succeed and reach their full potential.

Don’t get too friendly

Gemma Lloyd (she/her), CEO at WORK180 shares…

Years ago I was told not too get “too friendly” with team members. According to the person who offered the advice, if you become too close with people, then you won’t be able to give them hard feedback or they may take advantage.

However, I fundamentally disagree with this advice. 

In fact, I feel the opposite is true. Feedback is better when there’s a foundation of trust, and your team members know you care about them as people, as well as the business outcomes of their work. Having close, trusting relationships creates an environment where we can be open both ways, understand what’s going on in each others lives, and ultimately that creates a better, more productive working environment for everyone.

To make this even more interesting, we asked the same question to our community members. 

Only leaders get to rule on important decisions

Lai-Ling Su, Executive Coach (with a specialty in leadership, relationships, performance and well-being) and WORK180 Community Forum Member shares…

The worst advice I’ve received is that important decisions should only be made by executives and senior leaders. What’s driving this advice is a person’s often false belief that these executives and senior leaders have the most experience and therefore know best.

I don’t agree with this advice because executives and senior leaders don’t often have all the necessary information available (or the ability to gather it in a timely manner) to make good quality decisions. 

It puts unnecessary pressure, stress, and anxiety on executives and senior leaders to complete the impossible task of continually stay on top of everything in the rapidly changing complex environments that we operate in today. This expectation for them to be across everything can leave leaders feeling isolated; like they’re carrying the weight of an organization’s fate on their shoulders and can’t ask for help.  

This advice can also impact innovation due to a lack of diverse voices being considered. Similarly, employee engagement can drop because of feelings of helplessness or inability to see any impact from their roles. 

The advice I’d give instead is to be clear about decision rights. Decisions can be risk-managed and safely distributed across the organization and its people when everyone is clear about things such as:

  • What decisions need to be made?
  • Who can rightfully make each decision?
  • What principles and guardrails apply to each decision?
  • What is the escalation path for each decision?
  • Who has the right to take a decision away from someone or make it instead of the rightful decision maker?
  • Who should be consulted or informed about the decision?

Just be more confident

And another (anonymous) member of the WORK180 Community also shared…

The worst advice I’ve been given is ‘just be more confident’. Why is this bad advice? It isn’t that most women are not already confident, it is the ego of others (often men) that often lower or demean a woman’s abilities within the workplace. 

I have had comments such as ‘oh, I didn’t realize you were that smart’. Assumptions based on old world stereotypes in the workplace make it difficult for women to be confident in their abilities because it is still seen, even to this day, that women are only meant to be housewives and not professional breadwinners.”

And the advice I would give instead: Don’t let others hold you back.

Believe in your own abilities and have a supportive network around you that will remind you of your abilities when you doubt yourself. I remind myself that regardless of a persons reaction or comments about me, whether within the workplace or not, it has nothing to do with me or my abilities and it is their own personal fears or insecurities.

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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