I was standing outside a board room, about to train a C-suite team, when I had a moment of self-doubt; it felt rather overwhelming. ‘Can I do this? What am I doing here? Will I remember the most important knowledge I need to impart?’ all rattled around in my brain. It’s not like this was my first time. It’s my job! I do this a lot. And yet, there I was, letting my inner critic rise to the surface, threatening to destabilise my usual confidence. Perhaps it was the adrenalin. More likely, it was a momentary wave of imposter syndrome. Luckily it passed. I took a deep breath and had a great morning – all of us leaving on a collective, energised high. I would go as far as to say that I may have performed better, having this moment of self-doubt initially.
It’s healthy – in small doses
I’m sure you can relate to unnerving moments like mine. I actually think it’s healthy to doubt yourself from time to time. It shows self-awareness and empathy; it’s the opposite of arrogance – which can be a destructive and demotivating trait for others. It’s important to be critical of yourself to become better as a person and as a leader. In small doses, I believe Imposter Syndrome can be good for you. Nervous anxiety may enhance performance. You do need to take steps, though, to keep it in check, so it doesn’t become debilitating. If you’re reading this and you feel like your version of Imposter Syndrome has become unmanageable, it may be time to seek medical advice.
Our inner voice is an ostensibly silent, yet a paradoxically powerful, loud force. It has the power to drive you to achieve your best and never be complacent. And yet, it can also trigger destructive anxiety. At the moment, the Coronavirus lockdown may be fuelling people’s inner critic, as they have less interaction with colleagues and friends. With no-one to turn to for an outsider boost of confidence the quiet can be unnerving and all-consuming. During more normal times, you may experience imposter moments if you’re going for a new job, a promotion or returning to work after maternity or sickness leave. However, these threats manifest themselves, they can cause your inner imposter to rear its ugly head.
You’re not alone
An estimated 70 per cent of the population has experienced Imposter Syndrome 1 that means you are not alone. It was first discovered 40 years ago by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, based on a study of women. However, it affects men too – although statistically less so. Above all, it’s a feeling that our successes are down to luck or circumstance rather than a true belief in our own skills, strengths and qualifications. Michelle Obama once candidly admitted she used to lie awake at night thinking: “Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big?” Like her, essentially, it’s a fear and feeling of being a fraud. Whatever the trigger, the good news is, it can be overcome – through awareness and practice.
Reframing your inner dialogue
Here are three important tips for dealing with your negative inner voice and having confidence in yourself – so it doesn’t disrupt your ability as a leader…
Talk about your self-doubt: Admitting you don’t have all the answers, even as a leader, is actually empowering to you – and the people around you. Likewise, talking to friends or experts, in confidence, about any inner negativity can help you understand your triggers – and help catch doubt in it’s tracks before it takes over. Knowing you’re not alone is also very freeing.
Separate fact from fiction: Just because you feel like you’re failing, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Just because you feel stupid at times, doesn’t mean you are actually stupid. Being mindful of these very different interpretations can help you decipher the difference between a passing feeling and a permanent state.
Impart the unknown: Whether you’re in a board meeting, presentation to your team or an interview, it’s important to tell your audience information they haven’t heard before. What knowledge do you have that they don’t – that would intrigue them, or empower them? This in turn, helps support you with an inner confidence that you have certain expertise others don’t – and puts the focus on them, not you.
While I am not looking forward to my next ‘rabbit in headlights’ moment, when my inner imposter takes over, I know it will happen again at some point. But I also know now to see it for what it is, and try and channel it to make me perform better. As a leader, it’s important to do the same – don’t let Imposter Syndrome stop you from reaching your full potential.
If you ever doubt yourself as a leader, or could do with some techniques and tools to help boost confidence – do get in touch for a complimentary chat with me. I am an expert in Leadership, Wellbeing and Effectiveness.