When you are promoted to the position of CEO, MD or chairman, it is imperative that you adapt. You need to successfully navigate a risky period of transition in the evolution of your career. On one hand, everything you have ever done prepares you for becoming a CEO, MD or chairman – but on the other hand, nothing you have ever done prepares you for taking on the top job.
It is not unusual for people to feel like a bit of an impostor during this period of flux. Your success up to this stage involved translating what you knew into successive levels of complexity, as you were promoted up through the ranks. However, the transformation – from specialist to generalist – simultaneously involves learning a range of new behaviours whilst unlearning a variety of old ways of thinking and acting that will no longer serve you in your new role.
Unfortunately, some people get stuck mid-way through this metamorphosis. Without the right professional assistance and onboarding into their new position, they go into a vicious cycle of self-doubt that erodes their self-confidence.
Have You Fallen Victim To The Impostor Syndrome?
The impostor syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. It refers to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. 
I first came across the concept of the impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) during my formal studies of leadership at Harvard University in 2015. Over the course of my 15+ years of experience as a business and executive coach / mentor, I could immediately relate the concept to a range of clients I had worked with internationally.
According to Wikipedia:
Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women.
The impostor feelings can be divided into three categories:
- Feeling Like A Fake
The belief that you don’t deserve your success or professional position and that somehow you have deceived other people into thinking otherwise. This goes together with a fear of being, found out, discovered or unmasked. You may identify with statements such as: “I can give the impression that I am more competent than I really am” or “I am often afraid that others will discover how much knowledge I really lack”.
- Attributing Success To Luck
Another aspect of the impostor syndrome is the tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not to your own internal abilities. You might find yourself saying, “I just got lucky this time” or “it was a fluke”. You may fear that you will not be able to succeed the next time.
- Discounting Success
The third aspect is a tendency to downplay success and discount it. Do you ever discount an achievement by saying, “it is not a big deal” or “it was not important”? One example of this is discounting the fact that you made it here which is really a big success. Or saying, “I did well because it was an easy class,” etc. Or, you might have a hard time accepting compliments.
This, however, is not an all-or-nothing syndrome. You can probably identify with a few of the above statements but not with others. Some people may identify with impostor feelings in some situations and not in others, or maybe you may not identify with these feelings but have friends who do.
Avoid The Trap (Or Get Out Of It Quickly)
Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds. Other studies have found that seventy percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.
My assessment as a leadership development practitioner is that the impostor syndrome is not a mental disorder. It is a maladaptive coping mechanism that arises from a lack of proper leadership development. It is merely a consequence of the unfortunate baptism of fire offered by many boards and shareholders to those willing to be promoted to the roles of CEO, MD or chairman.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that many successful people find it difficult to ask for help. In this respect their independence goes from being a strength to a weakness.
Fortunately, there is an easier way. Enlisting the support of a Professional Partner from nLIVEn can help you avoid or recover from the impostor syndrome.
Based on our experience of assisting hundreds of people make a successful career transition at the executive and non-executive levels, you need:
- A customised approach to fast-track your management and leadership training and development in your new role
- A collaborative partner to help you accurately diagnose and prioritise the developmental needs of your team / organisation
- Unbiased dialogue to incubate your strategic thinking and the design of systemic interventions to drive innovation
- An independent sounding board to help you articulate alternative options, thereby co-processing and catalysing decision making
- Creative and practical ways to translate strategy into tactics, to realise opportunities and overcome obstacles
- Encouragement to experiment, prudently take risks, gradually surrender greater control via effective delegation and thereby progressively learning to direct rather than manage your organisation
Through tailored one-on-one assistance, your growth as a manager and leader can match the level of authority to which you have been promoted.
Escaping The Drift Of Success
When someone enjoys a high level of material success in life – either through their own entrepreneurial efforts or having been born into fortunate circumstances, or a combination of both – they risk becoming the victim of their own success. Though they may have many options available to them, if they lack the necessity to create value and / or they have a false appreciation of their strengths and capabilities, their success threatens to breed mediocrity.
In my special report “Why CEOs Fail”, I define five ways to avoid becoming the bottleneck when growing your business. The impostor syndrome is related to both the first and third ways.
Are You Ready For Professional Coaching?
We’ve developed a simple, 12-step questionnaire you can take in 5 minutes to validate whether you are ready to benefit from business and executive coaching.
This self-assessment tool is designed to help you determine whether you are ready to participate in the programs offered by nLIVEn.
The personalised approach of nLIVEn ensures your most important objectives are addressed, whether you are seeking measurable and tangible results or abstract and creative outcomes.
Ask Me a Question
If you have a question, comment, thought or concern, you can let us know by clicking here. We’d love to hear from you.