Ever Felt Like an Impostor?

November 17th, 2015

Many have - read on to find some tips to overcome

Have you recently been promoted or taken on your first leadership role?
Have you recently promoted a member of your team and wonder why they are struggling to find their feet?

I have been privileged to work with a number of talented leaders over the years and I have in the past been surprised when an outwardly very confident and capable person tells me they feel like an “Impostor” or are waiting to be “Caught Out”

It is however extremely common for people to feel like this when they are promoted and take on a leadership or senior role, but not often recognised or discussed.

 Often people are promoted because of their technical competence in their role as opposed to their leadership skills or ability. The skills that have got them to where they are now are not what will make them successful in this new role of leadership and they need to develop new and additional skills and shift their focus from doing to thinking and leading.

People are also recognised for having leadership potential as well as good technical skills but need time and support to develop these skills in their new role

 What Drives the “Impostor Feeling”?

Fear of failure or being exposed

Can drive people to freeze, put off critical decisions and become “busy” rather than effective focussing on the unimportant tasks that detract from the important areas where they should be focussed. This can be self perpetuating and can often lead to fire-fighting and a “caught in the headlights” feeling.

It can also result in the new leader jumping in and doing the work of their team as they feel more comfortable here or to “micro-managing” to fill time that is which would have previously been filled by “doing”

Key Areas for Focus as a Leader
Thinking / Reflecting
The future and planning
Taking Time Out

Some steps to Overcome Fear

  1. Write down your greatest fears and ask yourself what the worst possible outcome could be? Often just be externalising these they become less dominant and we can also see how false some of these are.
  2. Write down your greatest achievements in the last 12 months and acknowledge the hard work and dedication these took. If you can keep a reflective journal that acknowledges what you achieve and what you could do better it will help to keep these feelings at bay and be a good tool for future challenges
  3. Look at how much time you spend on the key areas of focus as a leader and work out how you can plan to spend most of your time here – what do you need to delegate? What do you need to stop or get rid of?
  4. Find someone you can trust to express these feelings to if possible this will also help the feelings to diminish and not build up.

Lack or loss of confidence

Even those who have been very confident in their previous role having clearly understood it and been able to easily achieve their outcomes, targets and goals and been seen as an expert or “got to” person for their knowledge in a particular area will feel less confident in a new role and can feel out of their depth at the start.

As with all change there will now be areas which are new to them and with which they will be less comfortable than those they know well. Understanding and acknowledging that they will have a degree of discomfort and becoming comfortable being uncomfortable as they grow into their new role is essential to building confidence in their new arena

Steps to Build Confidence

  1. Accept that you will be uncomfortable with new areas of responsibility and recognise this as a sign that you are learning, developing and accepting a challenge. You will have been here in the past and come through it to get where you are
  2. Build in time to think and review what is really important before you act, plan or communicate
  3. Break new areas into smaller tasks and set realistic expectations of what you can achieve in each of these areas over a period of time
  4. Build in time to reflect and recognise new achievements that can be continued and built on as this will build confidence in your next challenge
  5. Don’t compare yourself to others everyone has different strengths, which is good and necessary. Everyone also has different challenges, fears and anxieties which they need to work on
  6. Wherever possible build a strong peer network for support and find a good sounding board
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Fear of not being in control

In your previous role you may have had control over your own area of work, your own customers or suppliers, your own technical or research area or a combination of these.

It is very likely now however that you need to work through other people to achieve your goals and relinquish some of the control you have been used to having in the past, through effectively leading your team.

Just because you are responsible for the overall objectives and results of your team does not mean that you need to be involved or do it all. In fact to be successful in this new role you need to do the opposite and do and be involved in less and instead delegate, coach and develop your team to support them to be able to achieve more and be more successful.

Giving up control does not mean that you don’t know what is going on in that area if you delegate effectively and have good reporting systems, instead it should mean that others have the opportunity to own and input to areas to increase ideas and performance. Indeed the more control you seek to keep the less likely you are to build a strong, competent team, who trust you to support them to develop and challenge them effectively to grow, who are comfortable bringing new ideas to the table and to challenge you.

Some steps to relinquishing control

  1. Spend time getting to know your team and their current areas of strength and also to identify their potential
  2. Delegate effectively taking a coaching approach to leadership to ensure that you are both clear on the desired outcomes and have ongoing dialogue on progress, challenges and solutions
  3. Accept that taking acceptable risks is necessary for people to develop and that failure is part of the learning journey for your team
  4. Work out what information you need to know, to know that your area of the business is performing well and to easily and quickly highlight any areas of concern and put this reporting into place
  5. If you are doing something that is out with the key areas of focus for a leader above, ask yourself why you are doing it and if you are the best person to be doing this

 Things to Remember

  1. Being uncomfortable is a sign that you are taking on a new challenge and developing yourself?
  2. It is okay to feel nervous and question yourself, find someone to support you
  3. You  are now paid to think not to do and need to spend 80% to 90% of your time thinking and not doing
  4. Your need to focus on what is important as a leader
  5. Trust takes time, you need to spend time getting to know people and building trust
  6. Putting yourself in the shoes of others and thinking about how you would feel or better still remembering how you felt in their position will help you to see things from another perspective
  7. Ask for help
  8. By making yourself redundant in your old role, due to the success of your team and their ability to step up and take on your role, will allow you to be ready for and take on your next challenge and personal development

 As their leader what can you do to support your newly promoted leaders to adjust?

  1. Acknowledge that any and all of these feelings may exist and are normal
  2. Set aside dedicated one to one time to really listen to how they are getting on and support them
  3. Develop your own coaching approach and skills to be able to better support them - if you tell them the answers or what to do you will own their development not them
  4. Support them to set realistic goals and milestones to become confident and competent in their new role
  5. If you can share some of your own experiences of feeling exposed as you accepted new challenges and developed in your career
  6. Invest in their development

Kirsty Bathgate is the founder of Gearing for Growth working with growing businesses and leaders to support them to perform at their best, with a clear vision, less stress, better returns and more time for the important things in life.

If you would like to speak to Kirsty about becoming more effective and confident with less stress and a better work balance call Kirsty on 07425 629816 or email kirsty@gearingforgrowth.com

Image https://www.flickr.com/photos/gallogiancarlo/13919893185