The Quiet Leader: The Imposter Syndrome

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This post is a follow up to an earlier post I wrote titled, “A Quiet Leader Manifesto.” If you have not read that piece, I recommend reading that piece first for a little context.

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It was a recurrent daydream. No, daydream is too warm and too fuzzy-bunny. No, this was more like a recurrent night mare while I was still awake. No anesthetic, no hazy consciousness to protect the innocent. Feelings of fear, humiliation, failure and a sense that life-is-over-as-we-know-it accompanied the scene. Let’s call it an Awakemare.

My awakemare was short, simple and effective. I envisioned that Ann, my boss at the time, would kick open my door (Yes, I am a little Looney), finger pointed at my face and shouting, “You don’t know what you are doing! You are a fraud!!” Then it would all be over and she would fire me. I never told her about this and the awakemare played out in my mind over and over.

As an introvert, I have worlds in my head. Some real, some fantasy, and some awakemares. I think that most of us have worlds that become our mental home screens. The Imposter Syndrome can be one of these home screens for as many as 70% of us. Bestselling author, Margie Warrell, has written about the Imposter Syndrome and she describes it as Having to live with a nagging fear of being “found out” as not being as smart or talented or deserving or experienced or (fill-in-the-blank) as people think is a common phenomenon.”

Psychology Today also has an article on Imposter Syndrome, but the article is written to women. An interesting article, but as a man just reading that gives fuel to the fire. The imposter syndrome takes an article like this and I hear “Most men are not like me, there must be something wrong with me or with my leadership style.”

Because we are stepping out of what is comfortable, we will face fear.

The first point of the Quiet Leader Manifesto is that Quiet Leaders are used to being out of our comfort zones. Whenever you or I step out of our comfort zone, our Imposter Syndrome awakemares begin to kick at the door. BECAUSE we are stepping out of what is comfortable, we WILL face fear. When we face it again and again, the experience is not as new and not as scary. It is no longer the new fear on the block, our stranger-danger alarm bells quieten a little. We build skill and slowly our anxieties subside because we expand our zone, we grow.

My awakemare lived in my head for years until I told another of my supervisors about it. He laughed and said that in human services, we all feel it. It is because we work with people and there is always more than one way to accomplish something. That uncertainty can give fuel to our Imposter fears. One person may make a situation work out to their advantage. When I try the same thing, I flop. (Then the awakemare Zombies begin herding around me.) But if I keep at it, I will eventually discover what works for me.

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We have to push against the resistance if we want to get stronger.

As an introvert, part of me loves the bubble of my comfort zone. Staying with my strengths, what I can control and what I know a lot about is comfortable. But I won’t grow if I don’t step out of the comfort zone and push back against the awakemares. The thing is, you and I can bring our awakemares to life if we believe them. They will cause your real world to slowly shrink, just like an unused muscle. Then one day we realize that our world is getting smaller. Just like with a muscle, the way to keep what you have (and maybe build a little more) is with regular exercise. We have to push against the resistance if we want to get stronger.

How have you pushed back against your Imposter Syndrome? How has a supervisor, a therapist, or a friend helped you by sapping the power of your awakemares?

Please comment.

Keep it real

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