Mar 03 , 2020
Attack of the Impostor Syndrome

“Impostor syndrome is the voice in your head that overlooks, discounts and discredits your accomplishments,” explains Jerry Colonna, coach to CEOs, start-ups and author of Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. Even one of the world’s greatest thinkers, Albert Einstein, suffered from feelings that he did not measure up. He referred to himself as a fraud in stating that ”the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindle to have been struck by it.”

You Are Not Alone.

CEOs are not immune to the imposter syndrome and it can cause the isolation of having a leadership role difficult to find help in quieting this voice. Perhaps the most important advice for someone dealing with the imposter syndrome is to resist the temptation to power through it alone. Fortunately, one of the first steps is finding a trusted sounding board which we discussed in our previous blog. Lauren Romansky, VP of HR at Gartner, comments that individuals “need to take the initiative to place themselves in supportive environments. Mentorship is important. If you have somebody willing to step in and give you those pep talks as well as build your competencies and support your decisions, those relationships are worth their weight in gold.” The value of finding groups and individuals to lean on and learn from when experiencing self-doubt, getting advice, support and encouragement will provide valuable guidance, helpful insights and renewed enthusiasm in facing the overwhelming challenges that can arise in business.

Lack Of Knowledge.

Being open and honest about not knowing or having all the answers when stepping into a CEO role may have been perceived as weakness in the past but recent research indicates the opposite is true. Augusto Giacoman, a Director with PwC advises companies on people and organisational issues put it this way, “Leaders do not have to be perfect to be successful. Quite the opposite. Admitting mistakes, being open and honest, and accepting foibles and flaws yields far more effective results than projecting an untouchable facade. Tough leaders may inspire through fear or intimidation. Vulnerable leaders inspire with authenticity and humanity. And it’s the latter that is more likely to yield better results.” Understanding that even though your role is the final decision maker in the process, you are also part of a team and that you rely on the expertise of others so that you can make informed decisions for the future of the company. Jerry Colonna says,” a leader’s job isn’t to have all the answers but to create the conditions for really, really talented people to find them. It’s to ask, ‘What resources do you need to succeed?’ And then see if you can get them.” This will build trust with your team and give them the confidence in you as a leader.

Always Learning and Growing.

Negative emotions like self-doubt are not necessarily a negative thing. Self-doubt leads to self-examination and challenging yourself as a CEO to grow and make changes are just some of the positive outcomes that can lead to improvement when these emotions present themselves. 

Acknowledging that you still have things to learn are the signs of good leadership, Bill Gates regularly reads 50 books a year, Nelson Mandela regularly exercised even when he was imprisoned to keep his mind active and Johnny Cash covered popular late 20th-century rock artists’ songs later in his career and found a great resurgence in his popularity as well as numerous accolades because of it.

Be Kind To Yourself.

In her Forbes article, It’s Lonely at The Top: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome at The Executive Level, Jenn Lofgren, writes: “Most importantly, practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. Challenge your expectations of yourself, especially where they might be unrealistic.” Overachieving to the point of burn out does not help you or the company you are running. First look at the people around you and find the support you need, find trusted sounding boards, coaches, mentors and support groups, make achievable goals, find courses and books that will help you achieve your goals and most of all remind yourself, “you have got this” and make that the loudest voice you hear every day.