Are You An Imposter?

An interesting article about the ‘imposter syndrome’ albeit focusing on the female experience of it. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2018/05/17/how-women-can-escape-the-imposter-syndrome-trap/#7ec960bc489b

As a coach, I see this at play in both men and women that I work with. The article suggests the need to own your accomplishments, find ways to step up to taking your earned place at the ‘table’ and to experiment with the signals you send through both your body and verbal language in line with the well-known Amy Cuddy TED talk.

All useful advice for both genders, and in both work and life situations, but the article started me musing on what I have learned about the imposter syndrome from listening to people I coach.

The first is that I think there are transition points when the feeling of a ‘gap’ between our insides and outsides feels more of an issue. Some of those transition times are predictable; a different role that demands new skills or behaviours, increased visibility on a new project or a significant change in our environment which increases our sense of risk. The second is a deeper issue when environment and our comfort zone collide releasing some loud chattering ‘mind monkeys’. The ‘imposter’ feeling is much more insidious than just asserting oneself; it can be a time of deep self-doubt, anxiety and discomfort.

A CEO who felt he had failed in a previous role by being too ‘reasonable’ yet felt inauthentic wielding the big behavioural stick that he thought others expected of him. A female VP who didn’t want to be the kind of female leader she saw in her profession yet felt too inexperienced to be a role model for others. A leader who had succeeded through years of detailed technical knowledge who was now worried that he would be judged as not knowing enough to manage a new expanded and technically diverse team. A successful entrepreneur who was leading a fast-growing business which was generating a lot of attention but who threw up in the toilet before every networking event or public-speaking engagement.

Coaching someone through it is about helping them find what is really Real…as others see it and as they feel it. Often it is because some part of a current experience is pushing hard on how we have interpreted a past one. Helping someone unpick that honestly needs a safe human space to review the difference between the outside and inside, to reassure people that it’s ok to not always be ok and enable them to select which bits matter now and the tactics that will bring the inside and outside a little closer.

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