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New Managers, Here’s How to Stop Feeling Like a Fake

Topics: Career Advice
impostor syndrome
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You’ve recently been promoted to your first management role, but now that the champagne has been popped, all you keep thinking is:

“I have no idea what I’m doing, and everyone is going to find out.”

“I probably got promoted by accident and they didn’t know how to tell me.”

“The probably already regret their decision.”

Sound familiar? If so, there’s a good chance that you’re experiencing the impostor phenomenon, more commonly known as impostor syndrome.

This autumn marks the 40th anniversary of the concept, coined by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes. According to the original research, the imposter phenomenon is defined as “an internal experience of intellectual phonies, which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.”

Semantics aside, you feel like an impostor and would like to knock that off – but how?

Here are four ways you can overcome feeling like a fake at work:

1. Beginner mindset

If I were to ask you who holds more power, an expert or a beginner, what would you say?

Most people say an expert is more powerful. But, if you think about it, an expert only has power to lose, whereas a beginner has power to gain.

While you may have been an expert in your previous role as an individual contributor, as a newly minted manager you are back to the beginning for some skillsets. Why are you holding yourself to an expert standard when you’re just starting out?

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Can you imagine holding a kid who is learning to ride a bike for the first time to the same standards as a Tour de France cyclist? That would be silly, ridiculous and generally unhelpful to all involved.

Beginners have a lot to offer. They can see situations with fresh eyes that aren’t filled with “we’ve always done it that way” blind spots. When you begin to view your beginner status as an asset, your questions become powerful, not dumb. Your ideas become fresh and exciting, not phony.

When we teach children to ride a bike, we expect them to fall down (and more than once). It’s all part of the process. Grab your kneepads and get back on that bike!

When you begin to view your beginner status as an asset, your questions become powerful, not dumb. Your ideas become fresh and exciting, not phony.Click To Tweet

2. Design an admirable archetype

Imagine you are speaking at a conference, when you feel impostor syndrome kicking in. You start thinking things like “I don’t belong here,” but you know you need to find a way to get over these thoughts if you are going to be successful in your presentation.

When this starts happening, don’t resist it. Use it to play the game of designing an admirable archetype. If you aren’t supposed to be giving the presentation – who is? What do they look like? What is their background or where did they attend school?

Really flesh out this character in your mind. You may find they aren’t that much different than you. Or if you notice differences, think about how you could achieve the things this person has achieved.

Now throw in some things that make the character human like fears, regrets and embarrassing moments. When you can visualize what this character looks like, flaws and all, it can change your perspective on the current situation. Now, go and rock your presentation!

3. Call on your community

Finally, one of the most important things you can do is to call on your community. I like to keep these discussions to my inner circle, because of all the vulnerable things that typically come out in an impostor syndrome discussion.

I can count the people in my inner circle on one hand. They are the first people I call when something good or disappointing happens. If you can’t imagine them pet-sitting or babysitting your fur-babies or actual babies, they probably aren’t in your inner circle.

The community aspect was critical to the original impostor phenomenon research. They formed a group of women who identified as having this issue and regularly met to experiment with different homework exercises.

One of the assignments was to “keep a record of all the positive feedback she receives about her competence and how she keeps herself from accepting this feedback.” Once the participant was aware of this behavior, they were asked to do the opposite and really take in the positive feedback to get as much “nourishment out of it as possible.”

4. Host a workshop at your workplace

When you are in a community setting and you genuinely talk about how you don’t feel you are worthy and someone else says, “Wait, I feel that too!,” a sense of belonging starts to occur. What once felt so secretive and isolating, transforms into a shared experience that many have and are currently going through.

At Blue Shoes Leadership, when we perform one of our workshops on the impostor phenomenon, it never ceases to amaze us how powerful it can be when a C-suite member gets vulnerable and says they also have no idea what they are doing most of the time. We’ve seen folks who were initially resistant to the concept stand up and share their experience with tears in their eyes because they finally had language to name what they were feeling.

Just gathering together to dedicate time to learn and discuss the topic can help alleviate the impostor feeling tremendously. Consider hosting or leading an imposter syndrome/phenomenon empowerment workshop at your workplace with some of the exercises we’ve talked about. What powerful moments could happen if you learned your CEO feels this too?

The biggest thing to remember is that the impostor experience happens to most people at some point in their life. Even Dr. Maya Angelou and Meryl Streep are on record with quotes talking about their impostor experience.

If you think about it, it’s almost a rite of passage into management to feel like an impostor. In a way, you are exactly where you should be — welcome to the team!

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever coped with imposter syndrome after moving into a new role? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Ashley Adair, CCP, PHR, SHRM-CP
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