Pushing Back on “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”

By Denise Roosendaal, CAE, ICE Executive Director 

“Fake it ‘Til You Make it.” I have come to loathe this expression. I get the sentiment, I understand it as an expression of the need for perseverance and determination for anyone undertaking something difficult, something unproven by someone unproven. This type of determination is the leading attribute for almost any inventor, disruptor, new CEO, or just about anyone taking that first leap of faith into an important endeavor—the results of which are far from known. 

But like most cultural idioms, it has been taken to the extreme. It now seems to be the mantra of those who start out with good intentions and then crossover into something less inspirational and even fraudulent. One only need review the recent catastrophic tumbles of the inexperienced who mask their incompetence with confidence and visionary qualities. Think Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos) or Billy McFarland (the Fyre Festival). What these individuals have in common is a brilliant idea, a great ability to communicate the vision and a heart to persevere, but also a grave misunderstanding of their own abilities (and possibly a loose grasp on reality). Whether these are examples of a severe case of the Dunning-Kruger effect or a plain ol’ case of fraud should be left to the courts. 

With the credentialing community’s foundation built upon the need to demonstrate competencies, the “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” mantra fails to take into account the need for competencies and the ability to measure, foster and demonstrate them. And as we begin to look to the next generation of leadership in credentialing, it is now more important than ever to push back on “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” culture. Over the past year, many CEOs and executive directors in the credentialing community have begun to engage their exit strategy or announced their plans for retirement. These individuals have been pioneers in our field and their knowledge and expertise will be missed. 


With the credentialing community’s foundation built upon the need to demonstrate competencies, the “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” mantra fails to take into account the need for competencies and the ability to measure, foster and demonstrate them.


As we celebrate their contributions, we should also celebrate and welcome the new generation of leadership. If those positions are filled from within the organization, other vacancies are created that are great opportunity for recognizing the growing talent under your roof. They will likely stand on the shoulders of these credentialing giants, but they will also pave the way for the future with their own strengths and ideas for change. Many who are retiring have described a well-planned transition process and have incorporated a culture of grooming their future leadership within their organization. Some of those tactics include a long-lead time for preparation, exposure to the governing body to build relationships, training, reading, and sharing.

In a recent CEO Conversations session, a gathering of ICE members who are Executive Directors and CEO, we discussed the trend of the Rejection of Expertise (as highlighted in ASAE’s Foresight Works project.) This trend focuses on how expertise is no longer in vogue or sought out since the public can rely on easily available information, Yelp reviews or other crowdsourced feedback to guide any inquiry or search for answers. The irony of this situation is that credentialing organizations—a group that values experience, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and carefully designed instruments to assess competency—are building high-quality programs, while the public is often seeking lower-cost alternatives. As in any industry, it is our job to communicate our value to stakeholders as an important option, while still finding ways to adapt, adjust and remain resilient.     

ICE is investigating how we, as an organization, can best support and create a nurturing environment for the growth of this new generation of leadership. Here are a few resources we have developed or are in the process of developing. 

Leadership Resources

  • ICE Executive Summit, May 6: An invitation-only event, for strategic leaders of credentialing organizations. Individuals who are in the leadership pipeline are welcome to attend with their Executive Director. Contact ICE if you believe you should have been invited, or would like to attend.
  • ICE Career Pathway Project: Look for the soon-to-be released summary report from the Career Pathway survey conducted last year, which describes how credentialing professionals enter the profession, how these professionals move along their chosen career pathway, and how they advance into leadership roles.
    • ICE is investigating a variety of programs and products inspired by this work, including possible mentoring programs or leadership learning opportunities. ICE is also developing a graphic to illustrate what a typical career pathway in credentialing might look like.
  • Leadership Organizations and Reading: There are many ways to explore leadership ideas within organizations such as ASAE or the Center for Creative Leadership. Books on leadership, of course, are in constant supply. Two books I’m reading currently include What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There and How Women Rise, both by Marshall Goldsmith. Anything by John Maxwell, Jim Collins, or Patrick Lencioni are also highly recommended. I’m happy to discuss thoughts or share other leadership reading staples with fellow readers. I receive requests from time-to-time on creating book clubs in the credentialing community on these topics. With enough interest, we can research this as a service option as well.
  • ICE Career Center: Take advantage of ICE’s Career Center, which can help attract new individuals to all levels within credentialing organizations or help organizations announce new openings. 

I also suggest incorporating opportunities at ICE as part of your transition plan. Volunteering on committees, serving as a committee chair, or working on ICE products like research and development (R&D) projects or white papers is a great way for soon-to-be leads to test their leadership skills. The volunteer recruitment process for 2020 begins in October. With just last week being National Volunteer Week, I joined the celebration of our volunteer leaders and encourage you to consider the role volunteering can play in the professional development of your team or yourself. 

ICE’s leadership (past, present and future) is developed with care and the thoughtfulness of passionate credentialing professionals. We all depend on these individuals for guidance and wisdom as we create the future of this community. I would love to hear your thoughts and opposing views. Feel free to email me at

Additional Perspective: Denise Fandel on “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”

“Faking it just doesn’t cut it in the world today when things move so quickly.  I believe staff, especially those who have ambition to become organizational leaders, need to understand the ‘why’ behind what we do. Beginning with that understanding helps put context around the ‘what’ and ‘how.’ Being a leader isn’t about getting things done right, it’s about doing the right things and being able to tell the story about why they are important; how the parts of what the organization does fits into the reason for being…our why.” —Denise Fandel, MBA, CAE, CEO of Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer

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