Several years ago I was asked to do a 3-hour seminar on leadership for a group of 12 senior executives who ran companies with revenue ranging from 10 – 100 million dollars. I was 35 at the time and their average age was 62.
I had been vetted for almost 6 months from the organization who hired me to deliver the seminar to be absolutely sure I was a good fit and wouldn’t waste their precious time. I had been prepped that this group had extremely high expectations for their presenters and could be quite intimidating.
Several days before the event, the organizer asked me if I was nervous about my upcoming session. My reactionary response was, “Nooo, I got this.” In actual fact, I was extremely nervous. I thought, “Who am I to present to these successful senior leaders about leadership?” I was suffering from a case of the dreaded Imposter Syndrome (IS) and it almost held me back from taking on this outstanding opportunity.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
IS is an all too common feeling amongst public speakers and leaders in new positions. “It is an overriding feeling that you are not worthy of the job you have been asked to do based on your skill, experience or expertise. It is based on intense, secret feelings of fraudulence in the face of success and achievement. If you suffer from IS, you believe that you don’t deserve your success; you’re a phony who has somehow ‘gotten away with it’” (Harvey, 1984, p. 3).
Syndrome may be too strong a term, but many of us experience these feelings with varying strengths and frequencies.
Feelings Associated with Imposter Syndrome
According to the Centre for Teaching Excellence at Waterloo University here are 5 Feelings associated with IS:
- Feelings of phoniness and self-doubt (“I am not as smart as they think.”)
- Fear of being “found out” (“It’s only a matter of time before people realize I don’t belong here.”)
- Difficulty taking credit for one’s accomplishments (“I don’t deserve to win this award.”)
- Frustration with inability to meet self-set standards (“I’ll never be as good as I want to be, so why bother trying?”)
- Lack of confidence, fear of making mistakes (“I don’t think I have what it takes to be a scholar.”)
It is not uncommon for leaders to internally question their own competencies, abilities, and accomplishments in the areas they are leading. In other words, many leaders have moments when they feel like imposters in their position.
5 Strategies for Managing IS symptoms:
- Break the silence: Speak out about your feelings. Speak with a mentor (even a mentee), a coach or a trusted friend about your feelings. Knowing there is a name for these feelings and that other people suffer from them can be very reassuring. The first time I was introduced to the term IS I was listing to a veteran professional speaker I respected and was shocked but comforted to know at times she still suffers from IS
- Separate feelings from fact: Everyone feels inadequate from time to time. Just because you feel it doesn’t mean you are. Don’t feel like you always need to know the correct answer. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to make a mistake or ask for help. That fact is, you have the experience and skill to be in the position you are in; draw confidence from your expertise. Don’t glorify failure, but don’t let it make you feel like you’re not a real contender either.
- Keep a file of people saying nice things about you. I still have a file of letters going back over 20 years from students and clients on past expeditions telling me how great their trip was and my impact on it. Now I keep a file on my computer of positive feedback forms and testimonials I receive after presentations.
- Remember: being wrong doesn’t make you a fake. The best basketball players miss most of the shots they take. The best traders lose money on most trades. Presidents are wrong about stuff ALL THE TIME. The best football teams inevitably lose. Rewrite your mental script from “I am an imposter” to “I may not know all the answers but I am smart enough to figure it out.”
- Realize that nobody knows what they’re doing all the time. Most start-up’s fail. Even the ones that you hear about raising millions of dollars. Executives ask team leaders and
front-line employees how companies can be more productive because they don’t always know. There are many people who will tell you they know the answers. These people are liars.
“Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up because they are looking for ideas.” Paula Poundstone
There’s no good reason for you to be reading what I’m writing. There are world-class leadership experts out there who have led more, written more, and taught much more than me such as John Maxwell and Marshall Goldsmith. But I write this blog, facilitate masterminds, do public presentations and webinars because I think I have something to offer. Actually, when I look at the consistent feedback I receive from these avenues of expression I have proof that I have something to offer and you do as well.
When I arrived at the location for my presentation, I sat in the car for a moment and reminded myself that they invited me and my experience has me deserving to be here. Once the presentation started, all the nerves dissipated and I delivered my material in the same effective way I had hundreds of times before to less financially powerful audiences. The seminar was a success and led to follow up work with the organization. Had I let the IS take hold of me, I would never have walked into the building.
Remember, you’re not a fraud, you’re just you!
Action: The next time you feel consumed by Imposter Syndrome, reach out to a mentor or trusted friend to share your feelings. Once these negative feelings are on the table you can wipe them away and get on with being the real you.
LiveMore Mastermind Update:
Interest has been growing for the launch of LiveMore Leadership Mastermind, where a select small group of highly motivated individuals work together on bi-weekly calls toward a higher level of achievement and performance. I am starting interviews this week. If you are interested in more details and to set up an intake call email firstname.lastname@example.org w
Until next time… Embrace the Adventure
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, and Ironman competitor.
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© 2018 Shawn Stratton. All rights reserved
Harvey, J.C. & Katz, C. (1984). If I’m So Successful, Why do I Feel Like A Fake?Random House: New York.