Imposter Syndrome

Who are you now? 

June 15, 2023

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One of the most difficult things about promotion, or a career change, is that it brings with it a perceived change in identity. 

You got really good at your job, you were exceptional, so you were promoted. And perhaps now you’re not ‘doing the doing’, you’re the one developing those who are. 

So if you’re not a …(fill in the blank)… What are you? Who are you as a Quiet Leader? 

And if you’re already a leader but reaching the next level, or changing career, what new skills are required? What will you need to leave behind of your old role, and your old identity within it? Every step up or new role brings these questions – same devil, different level as they say! 

You’re now no longer the expert and what you did, you’re an authority yes but the expertise has to lie elsewhere. If you don’t let that go, you’ll be trying to do everyone else’s jobs, exhausting yourself and disempowering your troups. 

Or maybe you’ve been promoted to a role where you’re the least experienced in that area, but your leadership skills are what’s needed. Everyone else knows more than you do about the ‘doing’. Which can feel very vulnerable, exposing, and bring up feelings of being a fraud. 

And if you are the expert now you will soon lose it, because it isn’t your job to be so, to keep up with the latest developments and research, to maintain your expertise in the ‘doing’, it’s someone else’s. 

So now you’re not the expert, who are you? This can be really disorientating and confusing, your confidence can take a real knock. Fear that you don’t know, but should know, it all. Collaboration and consulting the whole team for the very best answers, what you’re so great at as a Quiet Leader, might feel like an admission that you don’t know, that you’re not good enough. 

These are common feelings when you experience imposter syndrome – your inner imposter might run riot, questioning the very decision to promote or employ you (they must have made a mistake), your every decision and conversation (everyone knows more than me), and taking every helpful comment as criticism. 

And you might be tempted to carry on making the decisions, finding it very difficult to delegate and let others find out the answers, do it their own way, and make the mistakes we all need to, to grow. It may feel too risky and exposing of your leadership to let this happen, so micromanagement and perfectionism start creeping in, deflating the team and squashing initiative. 

But that’s not how you want to lead, it’s not who you are.  As Brene Brown said ‘’Leaders don’t have all the answers, but they ask important questions’’. 

Here’s where I think it’s a great idea to go back to the beginning and think about your core values and your goals as a leader. Because  Quiet Leaders are so good at reflection and deep thinking, so asking such questions is a superpower.

Because now you’re about building teams, developing people and inspiring them. 

And as a Quiet Leader this can be especially important, because the way that feels right to lead for you may not be for anyone else. Looking around at the extrovert ideal and emulating that will not work for you long term – leading to feeling more like an imposter and potentially to burnout. 

Starting off by letting go of the aspects of the role you leave behind is a great beginning, clearly identifying what will no longer serve you in your new position. This is the looking back bit – it can be a little tough but it is so worth it, giving you a clean slate.

For looking forwards, well, that’s the really exciting bit, because Quiet Leaders change worlds. To help you out, here are three simple but powerful questions to ask yourself, that I use in coaching Quiet Leaders through my programme. 

  1. What gives you meaning and pleasure in life and leadership? 
  1. Where are you getting this in your new role? 
  1. How can you experience more of it? 

Journal, go for a walk taking the questions in your head, take them with you wherever you think at your very best. Explore and enjoy.  

This will start you off in rebuilding the firm foundations of your Quiet Leadership.