This post is the reprint of Karan’s article on Forbes.com, which was originally published on November 11, 2020.
“I feel like a drug addict!”
This was the comment of one of my executive clients during our most recent leadership coaching session. His heartfelt share was so compelling that it made my eyebrow rise à la Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I wasn’t quite sure if he was sharing that he was abusing narcotics or if his statement had another hidden meaning. Although I do have a psychology degree, I am not a practicing therapist. Obviously, my internal antennas went up to remind me to stay in my lane as an executive and leadership development coach for high-potential leaders and to refer any needs for mental or medical support to those qualified in those specialties.
I listened eagerly to his next words, ready to suggest some great resources for those suffering from drug abuse, as well as some incredibly impactful 12-step programs. To my (pleasant) surprise, he said, “My two drugs of choice are the desire to succeed in everything I do and the fear of failing in anything I do.” His revelation so resonated with me because not only had I shared similar feelings as a former corporate executive, but I could also point to numerous stories of both famous and everyday leaders who have stated that they struggled with the same two quagmires. For example, even after penning 11 books and winning numerous prestigious awards, the author Maya Angelou couldn’t escape the nagging doubt that she had not yet truly earned her accolades.
As you can guess, these two “drugs” that leaders frequently indulge in are not only in direct conflict with each other but also constantly fuel each other in ways that sometimes overwhelm the psyche. What individual hasn’t ever desired to do all it takes to show up as the best version of themselves but also had a deep-seated fear of being hurt or embarrassed if their leadership efforts go awry?
As a leader in your profession or industry, it is essential that you learn how to get comfortable with being vulnerable and being subject to the twist and turns of an ambiguous future. It is normal to fluctuate from being “in your zone” of execution excellence while also suffering from self-doubt, frequently called imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is feelings of inadequacy or failure, despite evidence of skills and successes to the contrary.
To combat imposter syndrome, I work with my coaching clients to create strategies to help negate self-destructive thoughts and actions, by better understanding reality and eliminating any unknown facts that may be feeding the imposter syndrome gremlins in their head. Research shows that this approach greatly accelerates the long-term effectiveness of leaders and their initiatives.
To help you also become a stronger leader, here are three strategies which will help you decrease the negative feelings of imposter syndrome:
1. Live in the reality of data and facts.
Assumptions are dangerous, and fear of the unknown can drive unhealthy behavior. The best way to combat this is to move the unknown into the world of the known. Ask questions of those in the know. Gain additional knowledge through research, focus groups or networking circles. Maintain a group of trusted friends who will both tell you the truth when you are out of step and will be first in line to celebrate your successes. The best gift that you can give yourself is to knock out your assumptions via verified data and facts, all while having a support structure in your pocket.
2. Lead with intellectual horsepower.
As I share in my book, Lead at the Top of Your Game, “intellectual horsepower” involves using your knowledge and areas of expertise to spot trends, connect the dots and identify areas of opportunity that others miss. Once you have dedicated the hours necessary to hone your craft, much as Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book Outliers, taking advantage of being the go-to person in an area where most aren’t proficient can be a huge advantage and will likely significantly reduce any feelings of inadequacy.
3. Be okay with not being okay.
I hate to burst your bubble, but nobody is confident and perfect 100% of the time. There is a steep learning curve with any new leadership initiative, a fact which most everyone understands. Rather than hiding behind your fears, think of yourself as an adventurer who is exploring the unknown for the benefit of your fellow citizens. As long as you’re passionate about learning from your leadership project and sharing those lessons back with others, people will cut you a ton of slack. The authenticity of your effort will keep you shining in admiration in the eyes of those you desire to impress the most.
The desire to succeed in everything you do can be a healthy passion that fuels you to jump out of bed every morning with a tremendously positive outlook on life. However, it is critical to keep this passion in check while also not becoming paralyzed to the point of inaction due to fear of failure. By investing in strategies to empower mental acuity and resilience, leaders will become more prepared to make the impact that they desire via their leadership endeavors.
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