“You know Paul…you’re really a fraud.”
“Come on Paul…you know you don’t belong here.”
“One of these days Paul…you’ll be found out as a fake.”
All of these thoughts settled in my mind when I became the Chief Human Resources Officer for a USD$3billon organization many years ago. I thought I had no claim to the role. I thought I didn’t really deserve such a position and that I had “faked my way to the top.” There were so many more people qualified to have this job, that I thought at any point, “someone” was going to come up to me and say:
“Paul, we realize now that you have no idea what you’re doing…
so we have to ask you to leave. Thank you.”
Of course, the irony was that the people who would be responsible for “helping me move on” would be from my own HR department, the same department that I was leading! Crazy thinking? Yes. But a very real story in my head.
Does it sound familiar?
In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article summarizing research on human thoughts per day. It found that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thousands of thoughts, 80% were negative, and 95% were exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.
If we are choosy about what we eat, about the car we drive and the friends we Zoom with…how come we are not so choosy about the thoughts we think? Our thoughts shape our feelings which shape our life experiences. It’s that simple.
What I did not know years ago was that I was in very good company. The Impostor Syndrome phenomenon was officially recognized in 1978, (Clance & Imes), and can slice across all genders, cultures, positions and lifestyles. Up to 90% of top performers have admitted to having it at one or more points in their lives.
The author Maya Angelou, actor Tom Hanks, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and tennis sensation Serena Williams have all admitted to feeling like a fake or have had a fear of being called out as a fraud at some point in their career.
Think of it like this: The impostor comes alive when someone who is confident and successful convinces themselves they actually aren’t good enough, and fears they will be discovered as a fraud or not as good as they should be – despite all external evidence that they are doing very well. It isn’t just self-doubt or a lack of confidence. It’s the gap between who you see yourself as being and who you think you need to be, to succeed and lead.
4 Steps to Crack Your Impostor Code:
The best way to thrive with my impostor voice is to actually integrate it into your unique leadership voice. Don’t gloss over it or ignore it or hide from it. Call it out. Acknowledge it for what it is. Be aware of these feelings. Understanding the triggers in your environment that enable your impostor thoughts.
These are the 4-steps I follow to call out my “inner impostor” and make it work for me, instead of against me. I also use these steps in my coaching practice with my clients who have an active impostor voice:
My 2 Self-Awareness Steps:
- First, I understand it is a common occurrence and I am in good company since up to 90% of top performers have admitted to experiencing Impostor Syndrome at some point in their career.
- Second, I understand that it is originating from my own DNA. I am the author of it. It is not coming from other sources or other people. (i.e. in today’s social media-fueled and comparative world, it is easy to feel that you are not measuring up and are being left out of conversations happening around you, FOMO is real…Fear Of Missing Out).
My 2 Connection Steps, Past to Future:
- Connect to your past accomplishments, your past triumphs, your past learnings, your past legacy. Write out your success story: what has gotten you to this place…this time…this role on this day? It is not luck….or fate…but deliberate steps you have taken that have made you successful. Write down your successes, your recognitions, your accomplishments, achievements.
- Connect to your future vision, your future purpose, your future goals/outcomes, your future potential. State a compelling future vision of yourself by creating a realistic picture of what success would look like, feel like, etc. Write all this down and refer back to these 2 steps when your impostor voice is triggered.
Impostor Syndrome has been around for a long time and you will never be able to erase it completely. It will continue to creep in from time to time. But by using this simple 4-step method, you can harness your “inner-impostor” for even greater growth and success. Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you my Impostor Syndrome Assessment so you can evaluate the strength of your impostor voice.
What do the top performing leaders at Twitter, SAP, Cisco, Equinix & Electronic Arts have in common? They have all experienced me helping them to find their voice of purpose so they lead with strength and inspiration.
From flipping hamburgers on Main Street to leading HR for Wall Street, Paul has continually reinvented his voice so that he can thrive within the uncertainty of our crazy world.
As someone who thrives with Impostor Syndrome, he has successfully coached hundreds of leaders and teams to overcome their inside voice of feeling like a fraud and find their confident voice as a leader. His life experiences led him to author his inspiring and award-winning book, “Find Your VOICE as a Leader” (2016, Aviva Publishing).
His recent clients include top performers at Twitter, Electronic Arts, SAP, Walmart, Cisco and Salesforce. He also loves to coach blossoming entrepreneurs looking to make their unique mark on the world. As a contributing author with Forbes Coaches Council and a Marshall Goldsmith Certified Coach, he appreciates the opportunity to work with leaders around the world.