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Feel Like a Fraud?

Does this sound like you? You’ve been promoted to the next level or asked to lead an important new initiative in your organization. Your first reaction is to feel honored to be chosen for such an exciting new opportunity. Soon, however, that excitement turns to anxiety. You begin to worry:

  1. What if I fail? What will happen to my career and reputation?

  2. I’m not qualified to do this. I feel like a fraud.

  3. How long before my management realizes I have no idea what I’m doing?

What you’re feeling is known as the impostor syndrome – a sense that your success is a fluke rather than a result of your efforts. High-level professionals who experience the impostor syndrome often believe that others will soon realize that they’re not really qualified for the responsibilities they’ve been given. They worry about being exposed as a fraud.

It is not uncommon for executives to struggle with this from time to time as their careers advance. While seemingly counterintuitive, the impostor syndrome tends to be most common among the highest performers – those who are most conscientious and capable of doing their jobs. Professionals who are most committed to their success seem to be the most insecure about their performance.

If the impostor syndrome is getting in the way of your career advancement efforts, try the following strategies:

Clarify expectations

Assuming a higher-level role, leading a new project, or developing a new program presents an exciting opportunity. The challenge, growth potential, and autonomy are highly rewarding. At the same time, these changes can produce crippling anxiety. Much of this anxiety stems from uncertainty about expectations.

Each time you take on a new role or embark on a new assignment, begin by taking the time to fully understand your leadership team’s goals and expectations.

  1. What is your role in this effort?

  2. What are you specifically expected to accomplish?

  3. How will you be measured?

  4. What resources (human, financial, technological, etc.) will you have available to you?

  5. How, when, and to whom are you expected to report updates, issues, and results?

Some professionals are afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to appear unprepared or uninformed. The exact opposite is true. Asking good questions is not just a valuable way to gather important information; it’s also a powerful leadership skill.

Recognize your strengths.

If you’re like most professionals, you take your strengths for granted. Because they are so central to who you are, you don’t recognize them as unique or special. You assume that they are universal or insignificant. Instead, you focus your attention on your weaknesses, particularly in unfamiliar or uncertain situations.

When you feel insecure about your ability to be successful in your role, take time to acknowledge your strengths and accomplishments. What do you do better than your peers? What traits differentiate you from others? What past successes led you to your current level

When you take the time to focus on your strengths, you increase your self-confidence and remind yourself that you indeed earned your current opportunity. And by doing so, you stop emphasizing your weaknesses, which only serves to undermine your efforts.

Utilize your resources.

When faced with a new challenge, it’s natural to want to prove yourself. You feel pressured to perform at your best so that your leadership will know that they made the right decision. And because you don’t fully trust yourself, you don’t trust your team as well. As a result, you take on much greater responsibility and control than is productive.

While you may feel that the best way to demonstrate your value is to heroically do it all, this will only serve to reinforce your feelings of insecurity and incompetence. Without the proper levels of delegation and resource utilization, your work will suffer and you’ll burn out. Once you understand what is expected of you and how your strengths map to those expectations, seek out others with complementary skills to help you more efficiently and effectively achieve your goals.

Request feedback.

Many of us shy away from requesting feedback because we’re afraid of what we might hear. Burying your head in the sand, however, does not make the problem go away. If you have doubts about your performance or are unsure where you stand, ask your manager and other trusted colleagues for feedback.

Consistent feedback will ensure that you uncover issues or problems before they escalate. And you’ll get valuable insights and advice on how to move forward successfully. It’s also important to remember that not all feedback is negative. When you receive positive feedback, you’ll boost your confidence and feel more secure in your position.

If you’re struggling with the impostor syndrome, know that you are not alone. Many successful professionals have experienced this at some point in their careers. Follow these steps to address feelings of doubt and focus your energy on achieving your goals.

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