Think back to when you were a kid and you were afraid there were monsters in your room.
You’d hide under the covers, on high alert, holding your breath, tuned in to every sound, and absolutely panicked they’d discover you.
Waiting to be exposed, to be found out, is exhausting.
It paralyzes us, holds us back, and prevents us from reaching our highest potential.
It can even derail our career.
Last week I had the honor of speaking at DisruptHR in San Diego. A global phenomenon unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the information exchange is designed to energize, inform, and empower people in the field of human resources.
Ironically, as I prepared my talk about the imposter syndrome, I kept thinking I was completely unqualified.
After all, I’d never spoken in the “disrupt” format before and I’d never worked in HR.
Who on earth did I think I was fooling?
I suspect most if not all of the other speakers that night felt the same way and everyone who’s ever started a new job knows exactly what I’m talking about.
We want others to think we’re the person in our professional mug shots – dashing, debonair, organized, qualified, fabulously unruffled.
When in truth what’s probably going on inside looks a lot more like a deer in the headlights and chaos.
We are high-achieving professionals.
We’re intelligent, educated, and experienced. We have expertise in spades.
And we all have a petulant little voice inside our head that whispers, “you’re not good enough.”
That voice is a bully and it’s been lying to you your entire life. It wants you to believe you are a fake. A phony. A poser.
The imposter syndrome is real. It afflicts high achieving individuals, causing us to doubt our accomplishments. It’s a nagging feeling that we’re going to be found out and exposed as a fraud.
- Who do you think you are?
- You can’t possibly pull this off.
- Eventually someone is going to discover that you have no idea what you’re talking about.
- You’re going to fail and everyone is going to laugh at you.
So why does this matter?
The imposter syndrome kicks in every time we try to disrupt the status quo. It matters, because every time we give in to the lies, we lose our ability to be a leader.
When we take a new position or try something new, we will always feel unqualified. Which makes sense when you think about it. We’re not qualified to do something we’ve never actually done. But we are qualified to start.
So, how do we take charge of our inner imposter and unleash, untie, unmask the true leader within us?
Here are three steps to get you started.
Step 1 – Question your assumptions.
Write down your accomplishments at the end of every day. When you review them every week, you’ll have a better understanding of how good you really are.
Step 2 – Redefine competence.
In the military, we had 5 basic responses – yes, no, no excuse, aye aye, and I’ll find out. Leadership doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It means you’re smart enough to ask the right questions.
Step 3 – Remember your childhood.
The things that made you laugh and gave you energy are clues to who you really are. Your ability to truly lead will always lie in your willingness to be authentic.
We used to be heretics.
When we were kids, we were heretics. We pushed the boundaries. We questioned everything. We asked “why” a lot.
And we very rarely took no for an answer.
As leaders, our goal should not be to impress, but to connect because when we do, we have our greatest opportunity to influence emerging leaders.
And we connect best when we are authentic.
So let’s get back to being the heretics we used to be. Let’s tell our imposter to take a hike.
Let’s stand in defiance of those people who are still saying things like “that will never work” or “that’s how we’ve always done it.”
Yep, stepping out of line and going against the rules takes courage but that’s the very nature of a leader. This is about disrupting the status quo and leading again.
We can choose the safety of conformity and approval, or the breathtaking and exhilarating transformation that comes from true leadership.
You are a heretic and you are a leader.
I hope you choose well.
P.S. If this topic intrigues you, Mike Kim, host of The Brand You podcast, interiewed me about how to overcome the imposter syndrome – you can listen to the episode here.