How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome in a New Leadership Role
It’s exciting to be chosen for a new and bigger role. But after the congratulations, celebration and novelty have worn off, you’re expected to get on with it and perform at a higher level.
That’s when imposter syndrome usually sets in.
The self-doubt of “Can I really do this? What if I’m not up to the task?” And the fear of being found out and all the shame that comes with it. It’s enough to make you want to run and hide. It’s certainly not the reaffirming confidence you’ll need to perform at your best.
Imposter syndrome is natural in a demanding new role
The reality is most people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers, especially when taking on something new. Some studies put it at 70%, but I think it’s higher. If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, as my mother says, “you are nothing but normal”.
So what can you do?
Here are three things you can do to tame your imposter syndrome:
- Take stock of what you do know
- Remind yourself of why they chose you
- Step into your “learning zone”
Let’s start with the first point.
Take stock of what you do know
It’s easy to discount the things you already know and focus on all the new challenges. But remember that the experiences you’ve had in the past led to your being in this new role. You have accumulated knowledge, insights and wisdom you can draw on and use as a steppingstone to tackle what’s new.
For example, when I was transferred from New York to London to start a new business line, I was panicked because I didn’t understand the European market. I was so senior that I was afraid to ask my colleagues for help and I certainly didn’t want to reveal to my new boss just how much of an imposter I was.
Of course I did some research, reading every book and article I could get my hands on. But one of the things that helped most was gathering my thoughts on the US market, which I knew well, and using that as a basis for asking “what’s different?”.
The key is to gather together what you already know and write it down. Summarize it for yourself so you can build on it.
Which brings us to the second point.
Remind yourself of why they chose you
Having been a senior decision-maker, I can assure you that every hiring or promotion decision is made with a good reason. Your organization has spent many hours over a long period of time before choosing you for your new and bigger role.
So when imposter syndrome rears its head, remind yourself of what those reasons are. If you’re not sure, go and ask. This will fill you with the confidence you need to fulfill your potential and do an amazing job in your new role.
In my case, it wasn’t my detailed knowledge of the European markets that led top management to choose me for the role in London. It was a combination of my people skills, the ability to make a plan and stick to it, my network of relationships with bankers, and track record of working with corporate clients.
These were my best strengths and skills, and they were transferrable to my new role. And I had plenty of colleagues who were experts in the European markets to collaborate with and lean on.
Which brings us to the third thing you can do.
Step into your “learning zone”
No one expects you to know everything you need to know when you start a new role. But they do expect you to be resourceful, to learn and to figure it out using all the resources at your disposal.
One way to get yourself beyond your imposter syndrome is to trust yourself to learn what you need to learn. After all, haven’t you done just that in all your past roles?
But if you’re deep in imposter syndrome territory like I was when I landed in London, it’s hard to think clearly much less learn something new. That’s where my colleague’s concept of the “learning zone” comes in.
Your “learning zone” is what sits between your “comfort zone” and your “panic zone”. So you don’t have to leap straight from the familiarity of your previous role into your “panic zone” where imposter syndrome has filled you with doubt.
Instead, reframe the situation as an opportunity to learn and grow by stepping into your “learning zone”. Before you know it, you’ll be growing into your next level of capabilities.
Don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back in your new role
While it’s natural to feel imposter syndrome when you step up into a bigger role, it won’t help you succeed. To help move beyond imposter syndrome and tap into your best, most confident self, remember to:
- Take stock of what you do know – write it down and build on it
- Remind yourself of why they chose you – you’re there for a reason
- Step into your “learning zone” – reframe the situation as an opportunity for growth
More seniority, more challenges
When you reach more senior levels, on top of managing your imposter syndrome, you’ve got to establish yourself as a higher-level leader in the eyes of others, set the vision and strategy for your business area and communicate with gravitas and impact.
Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out these challenges on your own.
These are exactly the sorts of challenges that alumni of my Next Level Leadership group coaching program have met and mastered.
I’ll be taking applications for the 2023 Next Level Leadership Program soon. If you’d like to learn more and apply, join the notification list. I’ll be sharing all the details on November 1st.