We’ve all heard the adages.
“Fake it ‘til you make it.”
“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”
These sayings are motivating, but they advocate too heavily in favor of deceit. Should you really spend years as a fraud, hoping you’ll “make it”? Is being honest with yourself and others really so bad?
This is my first time at the helm of a business and as a member of a team that depends on me so much. Lately, I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot and how they shape the decisions we make as a team.
Appcues started as a really scrappy venture, and that’s something I’m really proud of. However, I’ve realized when you’re fighting like a rabid animal every day, you forget how to behave among humans.
For startups, that problem manifests as:
- Over-selling products or services you don’t yet have.
- Saying everything is great when it’s not.
- Avoiding asking for help from people you admire.
Some things are (arguably) necessary, like validating demand for your product/service through pre-sales. That’s something I’m a huge believer in and practice avidly. But there’s a line, and the more it’s crossed, the fainter the line becomes.
The tough reality is that this isn’t a binary choice. A leader’s job is to sell the vision of a better future, and the most farfetched visions are galvanized through positivity. Practicality is not what inspires people to achieve great things. That subtle conflict is where we are at risk, and it’s worth our conscious thought.
These days, I try to reflect on things I’ve said or done. How accurate was the impression I just gave? Was there another way to achieve the same goal?
I count myself lucky to have a team who values transparency and doesn’t shy away from hard truths. As a result, honesty is an even more powerful motivator than false optimism. It makes the highs higher because the success is genuine, and the lows are short-lived, entrusted to responsible adults.