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Fake It until You Make It: Leading Conflict Principle 4

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

Photo courtesy of Patrick Fore @

Everyone wants to be a hero.

This desire is deeply imprinted into our human hardwiring. In fact, throughout all of history we have told one primary story. It’s the hero’s story and it goes something like this…

A person (usually young) is born in obscurity or in disadvantageous conditions (i.e. poverty, orphaned, broken relationships, etc.). They become aware of a great injustice, problem or challenge that seems intractable. They sense, or otherwise learn, that they have great and hidden potential to make a difference in the world. They meet a guide who helps them develop this potential. They face obstacles and defeat the forces of evil or resolve a great problem, while also resolving an internal dilemma.

The hero’s story can look quite different on the outside. Luke Skywalker, Mulan, Frodo Baggins, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer occupy very different worlds and might appear to have little in common. However, each story follows the same basic pattern. Also…

There is one primary experience shared by all heroes. Every hero begins their quest feeling unprepared, ill-equipped, and unworthy.

Long before the hero slays the dragon, vanquishes the villain, or restores peace to the galaxy, they look in the mirror and say, “Who am I kidding? I can’t do this.” They feel like an imposter pretending to be something they are not.

At this point, the guide helps them learn that heroes are not all-powerful. Instead, real heroes are those that feel unworthy, but find the courage to go forward anyway. Only then, does the hero discover their full potential.

This archetypal story is powerful because it captures the essence of learning and mastery – both in the micro-context of developing new skills and in the macro-context of a life well lived.

The mastery of new skills requires that you practice behaviors that do not feel natural. You will not feel like “yourself”. You will feel awkward and unsteady. If the stakes are high and there are metaphorical dragons to slay, you will feel like a child with a sword that is too heavy and armor that doesn’t fit.

But as every hero learns, you cannot wait until you feel truly ready. You will need to fake it until you make it.

Consider the first three principles of leading conflict: Move Toward Fear, There’s No Nice Way to Poke Someone in the Eye, and Embrace the Suck. Those three principles give you the foundation you need to lead conflict with more confidence and strategic intention.

Don’t wait to feel ready to use the skills discussed in these articles. You’re not an expert, but you know enough to begin the journey. You can only learn the rest of what you need to know along the way.

A hero who begins their journey fully competent and prepared to meet all challenges, is no hero. No one wants to read that story or see that movie, because success is expected and assumed.

However, your story is fascinating. You have fears and doubts. You have the humility to question your readiness and the courage to consider your potential.

In the meantime, you will need to practice behaving as if you know what you are doing. As a leader you should be real, honest, and authentic. But paradoxically, there are occasions while leading conflict when you need to act as if you know exactly what to do – even though you are unsure.

Consider Harvey Keitel’s advice to a new submarine captain in the movie U-571. As Harvey says, “The skipper always knows what to do – whether he does or not.”

As you prepare to take action, and fake it until you make it, remember these three truths:

  1. You might not be an expert at leading conflict, but if you’ve been reading this blog, you’re probably more prepared than everyone else in the room.

  2. Decide and take action. The worst decision is no decision. Don’t fail to act for fear of making a mistake.

  3. Behave like the leader you wish you were. Eventually, you’ll realize that you’ve become that person.

Check out the Leading Conflict store for practical and hard-hitting resources that will help you put these ideas into action.

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