There is a great scene from the movie, Boiler room, about “acting as if”.

To paraphrase Ben Affleck’s character

  • act as if you are the president of the firm
  • act as if you are endowed with exceptional attributes traditionally associated with manhood, virility etc

or essentially, act as if you had the next role, position that you were striving for. Act as if you had already accomplished the goals you were working towards.

The reasons were left unstated in the movie, but I’ve been evangelizing this concept to my team members my whole career, and the reasons are clear

Many people think that they can apply for a role and then once they get hired, or promoted etc. they can begin to act the part. Wrong. You need to act the part before you get the role, job so that everyone, especially people responsible for hiring you, can visualize you in that role. Once everyone sees you in the role and believes you can fit that role, transitioning to it via promotion, hire etc is just a matter of time. Your simple goal is to make this a fait accompli. Leverage the fact that perception often becomes reality.

For example, if you want to be promoted to a leadership position, start looking, sounding and acting like a leader right now. Don’t wait until you get assigned a leadership role to assume these qualities.

Sounding like

A good way to start is to kick the habit of using “loser words”. Nobody wants to promote someone to be a leader, if they act like a follower, or at worst a loser.

Followers ask questions. Leaders make recommendations. If you want to be thought of as a leader, never ask questions of a superior. Every question you ask diminishes you in their eyes and reinforces the superior/inferior relationship. Even if you have no idea what to do, you can still craft a recommendation using a best-guess approach and leave it to your manager to make the decision

Wrong: “When should we send the reports to the auditors?”

Right: “I recommend we send the reports out tomorrow to give the auditors a couple days notice. I’ll proceed unless you say otherwise”

If your manager disagrees, he can correct you. But, as you get better, over time, you will find he often simply approves your recommendations. That is when your manager will begin to think of you as a leader.

Remember …

Looking like

If you want to be thought of as a professional, a good start would be to look like one. A common trait of all successful people, is that they look the part. This doesn’t mean you need to walk into work in a tuxedo and yes, many people who are really, really good can get away with looking like slobs. But for the vast majority of us, appearance is a critical fact in forming perceptions. Yes, these perceptions are often subconscious and often biased, but whether good or bad, they can be powerful influencers.

When I was working as an analyst in Boston my suit cost me half of my first month’s pay. I was living in a tiny apartment in a working class neighborhood, taking the subway to work every day, but I looked like a commodities broker taking home some serious money. My goal was to act as if I fit into the financial community, that I was a player, that I deserved respect and to be promoted.

Later, when I transitioned to becoming a consultant, there was no dress code. But I continued to wear a suit and tie, even in shops that were business casual.

Once I started my own business, generally worked at home and no longer needed to aspire to the next level, I shed my fancy attire and opted to Work naked, a uniform that I’ve maintained to this day.

I will say one thing that I’ve always felt. In the military, leaders were expected to be in good physical shape and it is something I’ve internalized my whole career. I don’t believe you can be mentally strong if you are in terrible physical condition, taking no time and making no effort to eat right, exercise or simply move around. Not everyone needs to work out like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I have less respect for leaders who abuse food, alcohol, drugs etc. and take no time to exercise their body because I know physical fitness is akin to mental fitness. For dynamic organizations that demand rigor, discipline and mental alertness, being physically as well as mentally fit is a key competitive differentiator for aspirational leaders.

Acting like

Professionals are reliable, responsible, dependable. They can be counted on to make things happen. Sure, professionals make mistakes but when they do they take responsibility for them vs making excuses.

Acting like a professional means, first and foremost, that you take full responsibility for your own results, whether they are good or bad. The difference between a professional and amateur is obvious the first time failure is encountered. The amateur will immediately make excuses, equivocate, deflect blame, apologize, etc. The professional will acknowledge the feedback, accept responsibility and commit to resolve aka ARR. When it comes time to promote someone, which person would you choose?

Leaders lead, even when they aren’t in a leadership position. You will always have opportunities to lead, including volunteering for new tasks or assignments, taking it upon yourself to learn some relevant technology, skill, software etc, helping others and in particularly mentoring people less experienced than yourself. In fact, mentoring others is a key attribute I associate with aspiring new leaders.

If you want to transition to a new career, then don’t sit back complaining that nobody is training you. Go out and buy a book, or take a class, and learn it yourself. Create some related projects, start a blog, contribute on social media, answer questions on online forums. Act as if you have already transitioned, and before you know it, you will get a position, having already burnished your resume with a lot of related experiences, if not an actual job. I wrote a story of one such 50+ year old guy who acted as if he was a technical consultant, until he was.

Summary

Don’t act the role you are in now, act for the role you want to be. The better you get at playing the role, the more convincing you will become and the more readily people will be willing to promote you to it. As you work to act the part and internalize all of the values required for that role, you will, over time transition from acting to living that persona, adopting all of the requisite traits, actions, behaviors and values required of that higher level role.