The myth at the root of imposter syndrome

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Do you, as a manager, suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’?
I did for a long time, and the majority of managers that I have led or coached have, at some point, confessed to me that they do.

But where does imposter syndrome come from? In my view, the source of it is the myth that ‘great leaders’ are ‘born, not made,’ as if they all come from the same mold and, by extension. all share the same strengths.

THE GOLD STANDARD OF LEADERS

What this leads to, though, is that many managers feel that they have to ‘fake it until they make it’. They feel they have to measure up to this ‘gold standard’ of leaders. In their heads, there are one or two leaders that fit the mold, and so they feel they have to emulate. The result of this is that they focus on developing within themselves the strengths that their ‘ideal leader’ has more of , instead of using their own strengths to develop a management style unique to them.

I know I did this. I’d think back to the best leaders I’d worked for and with, and try to emulate them.

But, of course, my strengths and personality were different to theirs, and it took me a long time to realise that I didn’t need to emulate them, but just to be myself and utilise my own strengths. In the meantime, as I chased this impossible task, I felt almost crippled by imposter syndrome. Ironically, this meant that I was less effective as a leader.

MYTH BUSTING

If we are to believe the myth of the ‘great leader’, then we are saying that all leaders are the same. The myth is that all leaders are great visionaries and have no weaknesses (or at least don’t show them), that they stand alone above everyone else.

So, how do managers overcome imposter syndrome?

Acknowledge where their own strengths lie, where they need to lean on others (ie. those areas that are not natural strengths for them), show humility and keep an open mind. In other words, be themselves, and use the resources around you. So what if ‘vision’ or ‘strategy’ are not strengths? There will be colleagues and direct reports who have that in abundance, so can be brought into the picture.

Ultimately, by not believing in the myth of leadership and trying to be something they are not, and lead with their own strengths, they can become the best versions of themselves.

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