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Fraud Prevention: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

Many successful leaders, men and women alike, have a sense that at any moment, they will be found out. They fear being exposed for being “frauds” – for not being the people everyone thinks they are. They are anxious that they might be “called out,” because they aren’t clear about their self-worth or the value that they bring to their organization, or how they make contributions to the successes.

I think that we would all agree that there is some logic in feeling like an “imposter” if you are an artist, an author or someone who is creative for a living. Your identity is on display every time you put yourself out there for others to either “like,” or not, your work.  But even in jobs that aren’t conventionally creative, it’s very common for people to feel like they are faking it, and that can incite fear.

Writing this blog feels scary at times. What if no one likes it? What if I sound less than authentic, or worse – stupid? That’s real and human, and the requisite vulnerability means greater rewards and better conversations, and, hopefully, better outcomes from the experience. As a coach, I dwell in the realm of possibilities  - mine and others’ - and I have stopped stressing out too much about whether folks like my work, because if they don’t, I’ll learn what is more valuable.

As a leader, you are wrapped in your identity as a “leader,” however you define that, and your ability to lead a productive, successful and cohesive team is part of your creative process, your secret leadership sauce. It’s personal, and it’s professional, and it’s all about being vulnerable and authentic. And that can feel scary because there isn’t a roadmap, and we may not feel adequately resourced to be at our best.  And perhaps we don’t trust our best to be good enough.

So what’s an “imposter” to do? Here are a few ideas that have worked for clients and in my own experience:

  • Make a list of your contributions and accept that you have had some impact on successful outcomes through your contributions. Notice what you haven’t done because you didn’t want to risk being “found out.”
  • Get comfortable with failure and learn to recover quickly.  No one takes all of the right shots. No one hits a bulls-eye every time.  Give yourself credit for taking a risk, learning from mistakes, and moving on. That includes sometimes making a wrong decision.
  • Be discerning. Some people with credentials have attended many classes and earned a level of competence through experience. Others have simply earned the credentials. Know what makes you uniquely qualified to create great results, or how you need to adapt to become more valuable.
  • Focus on what others need, and focus your attention on adding value in your relationships. Sometimes we think too much about ourselves, when the answers are in thinking about the needs and concerns of others.