I was 12 years old the first time I sat down at a drum set. I remember the joy I felt as I hit the drums and heard the sounds I was making. I didn’t know how to make a beat. With no formal lessons all I had to reference for rhythms were the songs I heard on the radio. Because I was brand new I was also being completely myself when I played, and I sounded awful. To get better I had to begin the long slog of working hard to be more like the musicians I admired. To get better I had to be a phony for a while.
And so it is with leadership.
Today, when I practice drums I spend about 25% of my time working on fundamentals, 25% improvising, and a full 50% trying to be something I am not. During this time I am working hard to become the player I want to be, rather than the player that I am. In essence I am being a poser when I practice—and it hurts. I get sleepy during this part of my practice and believe it is because so much of my brain is being used. It is really hard work becoming something you are not.
After weeks of practicing a new pattern or concept I can usually begin playing it naturally. I then start improvising with it and making it my own. The next step is being able to confidently incorporate it into performances. I find it typically takes about a year of performing new patterns before they become second nature. It takes me one year to go from faking it to making it.
Performance is largely about making choices in the moment. How much risk do I take? Should I try that really cool but difficult new concept? It is so nice to just relax and play what I know will sound good. But I won’t grow by always doing what I already know I can do. I need to put in that year being a phony. And here’s the thing—I am always putting in that year. If I am working on new concepts I am always a little inauthentic.
And so, leadership. It is of course important to be your authentic self as a leader of teams. But the path to becoming a top performer comes from practicing being something you want to be. I find just like with drumming it takes about one year of practicing, taking risks, and making mistakes before new leadership concepts become second nature. So own your phony. Be a poser. It’s a path to getting real.
"Poser Power: How Being Phony Helps Me Be Real", The Leadership Program, Inc. 2016