Leadership Tip: Knowing the Difference Between Players and Pretenders

July 24, 2017

If you’ve ever led people, you’ve come across followers who would rather act the part than do their part. Those people are pretenders, and while they can sometimes masquerade as players, there are ways to tell the two apart. It’s important to find all the pretenders within an organization, because otherwise, they will steal momentum and damage relationships.

Here are some specific differences:

1. Players have a servant’s mindset; pretenders have a selfish mindset. Players do things for the benefit of others and the organization, while pretenders think only of benefiting themselves. A pretender is narrowly focused only on outcomes that are in his or her best interest.

2. Players are mission-conscious; pretenders are position-conscious. Players will give up a position to achieve a mission. Pretenders will give up a mission to achieve a position. For players, the progress of the mission is much more important than their own place within it. But a pretender will value his or her position more highly than just about anything else.

3. Players can deliver the goods; pretenders only promise the goods. A player is a team member who can be counted on to finish a task every time. The pretender will claim the ability to do so; but in the end, he or she does not consistently execute.

4. Players are job-happy: they love what they do and do it well.Pretenders are job-hunters: they can’t do what they do where they are but think they could do it better somewhere else. For a player, the work is fulfilling and meaningful, and he or she is devoted to doing it well. The pretender is so focused on appearing competent that he or she cannot always BE competent. And again because of the focus on appearance, the pretender won’t admit fault when mistakes are made. Thus, he or she believes that problems are a part of the workplace, not him- or herself.

5. Players love to see others succeed; pretenders are only interested in their own success. We all start out as competitors, but the goal is to grow past that. In my adult life, I have evolved from competitor, to personal achiever, to team player, and on to team builder. A player is happy when another member of the team succeeds because it benefits all. The pretender sees success as a win-lose proposition, and resents it when another person “wins.”

6. Players value integrity; pretenders value image. In navigation, the rule is that what’s under the surface should be heavier than what’s above the surface. Otherwise, ship will capsize in a storm. Integrity is like this; what’s under the surface had better be greater than that which is in plain sight. A player can be counted on to do the right thing, even if nobody is looking. Pretenders may only do the right thing when others are looking, and whatever is expedient when others are not.

7. Players make the hard choices; pretenders make the easy choices. We all have the power of choice, but once used, our choice has power over us. What is a hard choice? With a hard choice, the price is paid on the front end; the payoff only comes later. Few people gather to affirm the hard choice, and it almost always includes risk. And the hard choice usually places others and the organization above self.

8. Players finish well; pretenders fade out. Some people start as players, but at some point they turn into pretenders. Why? Because they overestimate the event and underestimate the process. They make the choice to begin, but they get tired of the work it takes to continue. Or they begin and proceed until they are confronted with the need to change. Unwilling to do that, they begin pretending in order to get by. A player takes all tasks to completion.

Do you have a better idea of who the players and pretenders are within your team or organization? Remember that players will always ADD to the team’s efforts. But pretenders, at least in the long run, will COST the team. Knowing the difference between the two means that you’ll count on the right person to get the job done.