Imposter syndrome

I have a problem with imposter syndrome in management roles. If we are sure that we are not up to the job, why did we accept it? Why do we keep it? Presumably we weren’t forced into it. And we are doing a job that someone else might need. If we are sure we’re not good enough, we should probably find something else to do. Otherwise, we must get on with doing our best.

Now, before this seems too harsh, I am clearly questioning myself. In a fit of meta insecurity, however, I am wondering if I am worthy of imposter syndrome. I applied willingly for the jobs I have done, against a field of talented competitors. I am able to do my work and I am getting better at it.

What does imposter syndrome signify? If we are at times daunted by our responsibility, good. We should be and it will make us a better leader. If you are frustrated by uncertainty, join the club. I have spent my entire career waiting for the ‘grown ups’ to walk in, take over and sort things out. They never have. I have met many talented leaders with deep expertise but most of them admit to making up large chunks of their work as they go. You are not missing out on membership of a secret management club with tried and trusted techniques to be applied to any situation.

Are we afraid that someone will be better than us? The news is, someone somewhere is better than us. But they’re not here, they didn’t step up this time and they weren’t chosen. We certainly don’t have to compete with some mythical ideal. Our best will be sufficient.

Are we protecting ourselves from the criticism of others with a shield of self criticism? They will criticise us anyway. They will do so fairly and unfairly, constructively and destructively, publicly and privately. They are doing it now. They have done it to every leader who has ever existed. There will be times when our popularity waxes and wanes but if we are ever in receipt of sustained universal approval it is probably a signal that we are pursuing a pursuing a course of mediocrity.

The work you have chosen is demanding. You will struggle with the responsibility, the uncertainty, the comparisons and the criticism. These are the price of entry, the deal you accept in order to make a difference. If you genuinely know that you are not yet up to the task then move on to another. Otherwise, you belong exactly where you are, making mistakes, second guessing yourself, taking the flak and making the world a better place.

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