Should you “fake it till you make it”?

As a reputation adviser, it’s a question I’m often asked by business owners and individuals wanting to create a competitive advantage in some way.

There seems to be an increasingly commonly held view that “faking it till you make it” is a harmless way of boosting self-confidence and self-esteem, and opening doors that may otherwise stay firmly shut if you were more “honest” or less self-promoting.

You may have faked it yourself in the past, or know of others who have done so, and come up smelling of roses. It didn’t seem to do you, them or anyone else any harm. 

However, the reality is few people would want to be known as a cheat, fraud or imposter, and even fewer want to deal with or be associated with someone deemed to be a fake.

“Faking it” might seem harmless enough but it can be extremely risky and create enormous reputational damage. The moment doubt is raised, it is extremely difficult to remove.

Philosopher Joseph Hall gave wise advice indeed when he said: “A reputation, once broken, may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep its eyes on the spot where the crack was.”

If someone feels he has been deceived, the doubts that are raised about a person’s ethics, honesty and integrity can linger for decades and stop a glittering career, friendship or relationship in its tracks.

Still, in spite of the risks, it can be extremely tempting to embellish the truth and talk oneself up in a way that is not entirely accurate in an effort to give one a competitive edge. 

So should you “fake it till you make it”?

In my opinion, no, especially if faking it means you will be out of your depth and unable to meet the expectations other people have of you.

Of course, presenting yourself in the best light possible — without lying or deceiving — is entirely appropriate, and something you should do with integrity.

Talking yourself up, truthfully, can make you more appealing and give you a truly competitive edge.

The trick is in understanding how to do this without feeling, or being, a fraud.

Presenting yourself in a way that is honourable and not misleading will help you win friends and influence people.

Trustworthiness is one of the biggest reputation-enhancers there is.

So how can you build trust and earn respect without faking it?

    * Avoid making false or misleading claims about your achievements, qualifications or experience. It’s very easy for this type of information to be checked out, so make sure the claims you make stack up.

    * Make sure all the information you provide is accurate. Being vague or inaccurate when stating start and finish dates, position titles and clients you’ve worked with will raise doubts about whether you’ve been entirely accurate around other information provided.

    * Always give credit where it is due. Acknowledge the contribution and support of others where appropriate. Not only will it reduce the risk of you ever being challenged about other people’s contribution, it will also enhance your reputation for being gracious.

    * Avoid making statements or claims you know you’re unlikely to be able to deliver on. By all means be optimistic without being deceitful. Honesty is almost always the best policy.

    * If you discover claims are being made about you that aren’t true — even if they are largely positive — try and set the record straight as quickly as possible. Your integrity and reputation are both on the line.

    * Remember: Over-promising and under-delivering is one of the biggest reputation damagers there is. Failing to meet expectations — especially expectations you may have helped raise — makes it significantly harder for you to impress in the future.

Faking it can lead to a tangled web of lies and deceit. It can lead to damaged relationships, missed opportunities and career-limiting decisions made about you that could take years to recover from.

Being sure that you will be able to deliver on the claims you make is one of the biggest confidence-boosters there is.

And when you are sure you can deliver, you won’t be faking anything.