Last week, I had a heartfelt conversation about a topic that comes up quite frequently when I talk to high-performing new leaders and it’s something that I feel doesn’t get talked about enough.
And for that reason, I decided to write about this today.
What I’m referring to is the oh-so-infamous imposter syndrome.
If you’re not sure what this is, let me explain what it sounds like…
“I’ve been working for the same company for the past three years and have been doing really well there (promoted almost every year, raises in every performance review, nothing but praise and minor feedback on how to hone my skills, etc). Logically, I know everyone thinks I’m doing a good job, and people seem to really like and respect me. This is all awesome! Except that deep down my gut tells me I don’t deserve the praise I keep getting and that I have no idea what I’m doing leading this team, and everyone is going to find out.”
Does this sound familiar?
The chances are that you’ve had similar thoughts in the past or are dealing with them right now. Most people experience imposter syndrome multiple times throughout their career.
This is true even of people at intimidatingly high levels…
Sheryl Sandberg, Howard Schultz, Tina Fey, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sotomayor, Tom Hanks, and loads of other highly accomplished leaders have all talked about grappling with it.
But knowing that you’re not alone with this doesn’t make it any easier when you’re caught in the throes of self-doubt.
So, next time, you notice these thoughts come up, remember the following tips:
1. Force yourself to look at evidence and facts
First, are you meeting the goals laid out for your role? Or are you even exceeding them? If so, that’s pretty compelling evidence that you are in fact equipped to do what you’ve been hired to do.
Second, what do your boss and others say about your work? If you get lots of praise, ask yourself what your world would look like if you believed it.
And if you don’t quite believe it, why not? Have you seen evidence that your boss pulls her punches, or is she generally candid with people? If she usually addresses problems with people when needed, assume that she’d address them with you too, if there were any.
If that doesn’t convince you, then ask yourself this: Why are you giving your self-doubt more weight and more credibility than the opinions of your boss and your colleagues?
You’re dismissing their assessment as if they must not know any better. But they’re probably reasonably smart people who base their assessment on facts and evidence.
2. Ask for feedback
If you’re not already getting regular feedback from your boss and you’re not sure how you’re doing, then ask for more.
- And if the feedback you do get is primarily praise, then ask your boss some direct questions such as the following: I really value critical feedback, and I’d be grateful to hear your thoughts on ways I could be more effective.
- If I were going to focus on improving in one area, what would you say would benefit me most?
- I want to get better at [insert a topic that you personally find you could be doing better at]. What advice or suggestions would you have for me?
- Could we talk through how project [x] went? I’d love to get your thoughts on where I could improve that process for the future.
3. Act it
How would you act if you did feel confident in your job and like you deserved to be there? Start acting like that now, even if it feels awkward.
Weirdly, doing this has a way of making it start to feel real over time.
A trick here is to imagine how a confident leader that you admire would be acting. Then imagine you’re that person when you’re in situations where you experience a lot of self-doubt.
4. Embrace that all humans make mistakes and lack knowledge at times
There is no possible way that you know absolutely everything at work and sometimes you’re going to make mistakes… because you’re a normal human, not because you’re terrible at your job.
Impostor syndrome can make you feel like the occasional mistake or lack of knowledge is evidence that you don’t belong where you are.
Interestingly though, openly acknowledging when you don’t know something or when you messed up will actually make people see you as more confident and credible.
There’s a real strength in calmly saying “I don’t have a good understanding of X, can you walk me through it?” or “I really messed this up, can we talk about how I should have approached it?”
Openly identifying the places where you’re not as strong — and seeking out information from others to rectify that — will make you better and better at your job over time.
So seen that way, one could argue that you should even be excited to find gaps in your knowledge since that gives you a chance to build your knowledge.
5. If all else fails, resolve to stop thinking about it for now
This might be easier said than done, but there’s something to be said for just focusing on your work, and not dwelling so much on whether you deserve to be there.
At some point, you’ll see enough evidence to ensure yourself that you’re not a fraud — but until then, you might as well not agonize over it.
Tell me what you think…
Have you ever coped with imposter syndrome after moving into a new role? Comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences around this.