By Claire Louge, July 31, 2020

Early in my career, I subscribed to the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ mindset. I thought that in order to prove my professional worth, I had to demonstrate perpetual competence. If I l didn’t possess a skill, I needed to feign it until I actually figured it out. If I didn’t know what someone was talking about at a meeting, I had to sit there and nod, pretending that I did. I thought knowledgeability was what earned respect, and I didn’t want to be perceived as lacking it.

I know better now. 

Seven months ago, I was promoted to executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. There has been so much to learn. Some things I knew I needed to learn (like nonprofit finance processes), but some things I didn’t know I didn’t know, and I needed to learn those things too (leading an organization through a pandemic).

Through my time in this role so far, I’ve committed to being transparent with what I don’t know, and open with my learning process. If someone says an acronym I don’t recognize, I ask them to define it. If a person assumes I know something and is having a conversation with me about it, it’s unfair to them, and unproductive for us both, for me to fake understanding. I ask them to teach me.

It’s helped me learn a lot. Not faking it is helping me ‘make it.’

Keep in mind, how you ask for more information is key. Have you have ever started a sentence with, ‘Sorry if this is a stupid question, but…?’ Don’t apologize for asking a ‘stupid question.’ What we tend to consider ‘stupid questions’ are often the most foundational, and if we aren’t clearly building on the same foundation, we can’t build anything stable together. In my experience, when I ask ‘stupid questions,’ others often thank me for asking, because they were wondering, too.

The transparency of others has also been a gift to me. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve been especially grateful for the candor of my colleagues and other leaders. They’ve been sharing the kinds of emotions they’re experiencing – their doubts, fears, and hopes – and how they are navigating hard decisions like assessing risk related to Covid-19, and speaking up or standing back on political issues.

It is liberating to me to hear their humanity. It makes me feel connected, and there’s nothing more life-affirming than feeling connected. If they had chosen to fake total confidence or certainty, that connection wouldn’t be there.

When you have the courage to be transparent, you’re permitting others to be transparent, too. You never know who you might liberate. Transparency is leadership. It may be challenging to be transparent about hard things, but it’s the hardest issues that need the most transparency to transform.

Transparency is just pointing out what’s real, and when we’re trying to build something important, like a better Arizona for our children, we need to start with what’s real.