March 27, 2010
Go Beyond the Impostor Syndrome

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In a rapidly changing, highly complex and unpredictable world, leadership has little to do with being the smartest person in the room.

It is often the case that those holding positions of authority believe they must justify their position by providing the best solutions to the problems they face.

They see their authority as grounded in their knowledge and expertise and feel obliged to demonstrate their acumen whenever consequential problems are addressed.

Often this need to demonstrate that one "has the answer" is grounded in a deeply rooted fear that one, in fact, does not truly know what to do and that revealing one's uncertainty will lead to an erosion of confidence in one's superiors and subordinates.

This phenomenon invariably leads to compensatory behavior in which one's inner doubts and uncertainty about how to address complex and ambiguous issues leads to unjustified rigidity of positions and an inability to see the value of alternative points of view.

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If I must prove to everyone, especially myself, that I deserve the position I have attained, I can never allow myself to be seen as needing to learn anything or to rely on anyone else.

This dilemma -- often referred to as the "impostor syndrome", -- systematically undermines one's ability to learn, to benefit from the perspectives of others, and to appreciate the value of others' strengths and points of view.

It also often leads to behaviors in which we diminish others in order to reassure ourselves of our importance and our value.

Lastly, it virtually guarantees that the decisions that end up getting made are not the best possible ones because they are not informed by the experience, insight, and creativity of those around us.

- Barry Gruenberg

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at March 27, 2010 01:50 AM

Comments

Thanks for the post Mitch. I've been at the imposter place and fight hard not to go back. This message is especially important to young professionals who think they have to be a certain way to succeed. I pretty much lost a job because I was labeled an expert which caused me not to ask for help. My thought was, "I can't ask for help, I'm the expert."

currently, I catch myself doing the same thing on occassion with the folks I manage. Thanks for the reminder to chill out.

Your Ambassador,
Mike Bruny

Posted by: Mike Bruny [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 28, 2010 01:29 AM

Dr Barry,

What a great start. So good that I've tweeted and sent this around internally (tactfully of course).

I've also fallen foul of Mike's problem - it does take a lot of courage to admit that you don't know everything, especially if you're working in a very competitive environment. I find it helps if roles are clearly defined and consistently managed / adhered to.

I look forward to the next 11 posts

Simon King

Posted by: SimonK_cascaid [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 29, 2010 05:34 AM

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