Can you fake competence? Not really. You may ‘fake’ your way through a job interview if the panel does not ask the right questions. Once you’re in, though, incompetence will show up very quickly. How quickly will depend on the area of your (non-)expertise. Unfortunately for many employees, leaders usually have a lot more time to ‘prove’ their incompetence in leading teams than, say, a fake Java programmer in a high-performing team. At least to the top management.

The bigger debate, though, is what fake really means. Or rather, what exactly do we fake?

Faking confidence is not a bad thing. It means we are aware of our fears, but we don’t allow them to run our lives or determine our actions. We may be extremely nervous before the presentation, but we ‘fake’ confidence. We enter the room, smiling, seemingly relaxed, and we speak in a calm low voice. Beautiful! And yes, it does work. After some time, fear realizes that it’s not in control and takes a back seat. Well done, my friend!

Faking competence is another game altogether. Not preparing our presentation and ‘winging’ it is a disrespect to other people and their time.

Bluntly, faking competence means you are lying about your ability to perform the task. Bad, bad, pew, shame!

Just think of someone who forges diplomas to act as a cardiac surgeon without ever touching a scalpel before. They are not confident; not even over-confident, these people are plain delusional or criminal. They are a menace to society, who either refuse to acknowledge their own lack of competence or refuse to acknowledge the risk they are putting other people in. That’s why we take such people to Court. Bad, bad!

Now, most of us have been fortunate enough not to fall into the hands of such a fraud. Most of us, however, have already had the pleasure of working with or under someone, who makes you have some serious doubts about HR’s competence. And it is more than understandable that people are unhappy about it.

What I question, though, is whether it is the ‘faking’ part that makes up the core problem.

The problem with leaders, who ‘faked’ leadership skills at the interview is not that they faked it at that point. The first problem is with interviewers, who are either blinded by overtly extrovert candidates, don’t have enough technical knowledge to assess the candidate’s level of competence, or just don’t care enough to make sure they go beyond the false front.

The second problem is with leaders AFTER they successfully fake it when they can’t be bothered to make an honest self-assessment and KNOW that they need to develop their skills. Those are leaders, who – once they have their positions – believe that any sign of openness to learning is a sign of weakness, so they grimly stick to their current state of competence and refuse to grow.

The third problem is with top management that is hesitant to address the issue of leadership and believes that ‘things just work themselves out’, instead of investing in an open assessment of their leadership and strengthening the competence of their leaders.

For you, who may be tempted to fake competence, the primary consideration is this: who pays the price for your incompetence?

Is it other people? Whose work will be affected, because you don’t deliver what you promised? Who ends up with cement in their butts, because you don’t understand plastic surgery? If that is the case: Don’t even think of faking it!

Is it you, working until 2 am in the night to catch up on the skills? You, who has to invest in an evening class to build on the skills you pretended you already had? If that is the case: well done. Growth means we step into shoes that are bigger than our feet. As long as we are willing to grow into them, we have all the right to be confident.