How To Lead Before You’re Ready

Once I asked a much more senior person in my organization for any career advice he could share. I was so disappointed when all he said was, “Look the part. Dress for the role you want.”

I thought, ‘What in the world is he talking about?’ For a while, I believed that was the most shallow career advice I had ever heard. But in his defense, maybe he wasn’t impressed with my sweet looking Khaki pants!

My wife usually stops me before leaving the house if I’m dressed like a clown. Thankfully, she has some type of radar that catches me on those days I feel like color coordinating and ironing doesn’t apply to me.

But now I think I understand what he meant. 

It wasn’t about wearing an Armani suit to work; though it was about how I present myself. It’s really about acting like the person you want to become, which to some extent includes looking the part as well.

But there’s more.

It’s about looking, acting, and behaving NOW like the person you want to be in the FUTURE.

When I started acting like the leader I wanted to become something really strange started to happen. People started treating me differently.

Can you believe that?

My wife noticed it too, so this wasn’t something happening just in my imagination. I could feel how people were treating me like the leader I wanted to become and their reaction reinforced in me the belief that I was, in fact, a leader.

The change started internally and not externally.

Lots of people have this idea that because they aren’t in a leadership position, don’t have a corner office, or high salaries they aren’t leaders. But that’s a trap keeping many of us in a glass ceiling made up of false ideas about ourselves.

If you want to be a leader, then start leading now regardless of your salary, title, or circumstances.

But this isn’t just about being a leader; it’s about personal change.

It’s applicable to whatever type of person you want to become. If you want to be seen as an honest, dependable, or dedicated person then act like it now even if you don’t feel like that type of person. There’s no reason for you to wait for some magical moment when someone taps your shoulder and says now is the time for you to become the person you want to be.

This reminds of what my business coach, Kendall Ficklin likes to say,

“Start before you’re ready.”

When you act like the person you want to become, you start to internalize this change not just physically, but emotionally, intellectually, and even psychologically. The coolest thing about this is that your body language is a tool that you can use to reinforce the person you want to become.

Sound crazy?

Well, Amy Cuddy, the social psychologist and Harvard professor who studies body language and its effects on our behavior gave an awesome TED talk on this topic. Check it out. Her research can be summed up with one of her quotes,

“Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become.”

Here are four more quotes from her, which go into a little more detail about the role that our body plays in shaping how we feel:

“When our body language is confident and open, other people respond in kind, unconsciously reinforcing not only their perception of us but also our perception of ourselves.”

“focus less on the impression you’re making on others and more on the impression you’re making on yourself.” 

“Our bodies change our minds, and our minds change our behavior and our behavior changes our outcomes.

“The whole body-mind thing comes into play when you are feeling that self-doubt and your body is not going to help you if you’re not paying attention. Your body’s going to go with the self-doubt and make you feel worse, so by making the adjustments – pulling your shoulders back, standing up straight, walking in a more sort of expansive way – all sorts of little things will help pull you out of that self-doubt.”

So are you acting now like the person you want to become?