06 May How to… tackle imposter syndrome
Monica Collings, CEO, So Energy
Monica Collings is CEO of So Energy, challenger retail energy supplier and part of the ESB Group. Having worked within the energy industry since 2018, she formerly led Vattenfall’s supplier in GB. With a career foundation in marketing and communications, her path to leadership has seen her work in a number of industries including property, automotive and retail; markets clearly relevant as part of the energy transition to net zero. Monica sits as a non-executive on a number of boards and chairs a Diversity and Inclusivity Committee – a subject she is incredibly passionate about. This blog is based on the POWERful Connections Breakfast that Monica kindly hosted for us in April.
In 1978, when Clance and Imes first coined the term Imposter Syndrome, I wonder if they considered the strength and impact of using a word so strongly associated with medical disease and disorder. Whilst Imposter Syndrome is defined as a persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved, it is often that the environment someone finds themselves in results in feelings that come, and then go – much more like a phenomenon (an observable fact or event) than a syndrome that requires treatment.
At some point in our lives, 70% of us will experience feelings of uncertainty, being undeserving, inadequacy or a fraud. And those feelings aren’t exclusively reserved for women either. At times, these feelings can link back to a childhood trauma or experience such as being outperformed by siblings. But often, the feelings come after a success, because the saddest truth is that high achievers are more prone to experiencing feelings that self-sabotage or hold them back. Someone I spoke to described it as being in the highest pressured situation but with the lowest amount of support. And that sounds like an extraordinarily difficult and lonely place to be.
Who gets Imposter Phenomenon?
Valerie Young points to five tendencies based on behaviours:
- 1. The Perfectionist: Setting near impossible standards where anything less than perfect is a failure, struggling to delegate as they could have ‘done it better themselves’
- 2. The Expert: Won’t apply for a job unless they tick 100% of the job criteria and needs to know every aspect of the role they do, holding back opinions in meetings for fear of looking silly
- 3. The Natural Genius: Thinks if something requires effort then it’s a sign of their failure
- 4. The Soloist: Avoids asking for help as this is a sign of weakness and failure
- 5. The Super(wo)man: Working harder than anyone else, with a perfect life and constantly pushing themselves to their limits and beyond
From the outside, these people seem calm, confident, focussed and perform their roles effortlessly well. But on the inside? That’s another story.
What creates the feelings associated with Imposter Phenomenon?
Being marginalised often creates an environment where someone feels less comfortable – for example, being the only woman in a boardroom. It can dent your confidence, where there’s no sense of belonging or if you’re different to everyone else around you. Where there aren’t great role models to aspire to be like (for example earlier on in your career), the feelings of insecurity and doubt can start to set in.
But when we think about this, it’s not the individual that has ‘the problem’. The environment has a big role to play, and as leaders if we work to fix the environments and cultures we lead in, then we create safe spaces where it is easy to share feelings as part of a normal way of doing business. We can celebrate successes and give people a sense of belonging regardless of their background, career path or characteristics. We can learn from mistakes and move on, and put a spotlight on all kinds of aspirational role models so no one ever feels alone.
When you find yourself experiencing those feelings of doubt, what can you do to help yourself? Here are a few tips:
- Acknowledge the feelings you’re having
- Try not to compare yourself to others, and focus on being a little better each day
- Reward yourself and feel good about your achievements (practising gratitude and journaling reflections can be a great way of doing this)
- Ask for feedback regularly and …
- … believe the truth about yourself. Write it down so you can refer back to the great things people say about you when you’re in doubt
- Create a personal ‘board’ – a team of people who can lift you when you need it – comprised of:
- A Peer to inspire you with fresh ideas and validate your work
- A Cheerleader who encourages and listens to you vent, to help you get back on track when you need it
- A Career Coach to challenge you to be the best version of yourself and work out what to do and how to achieve it
- A Mentor who is a senior level supporter that gives you advice and points you to resources
- A Connector to introduce you to everyone and anyone to broaden your network
- A Wellness Buddy to watch your wellbeing and remind you to take care of yourself
Authentic leaders are the best leaders
My final piece of advice is always be true to yourself. There are plenty of things out there to knock you down. Remember the old saying “she runs like a girl”? People are quick to judge and critics will do a good enough job of putting you down without you putting yourself down too. As a woman in business, there are sometimes moments where you might feel the need to behave ‘more like a man’. But if there’s something I realised and now hold very true to, it is that authenticity and being genuinely you in your leadership style and approach is the only way to be successful. It’s the best way to feel comfortable and avoid any feelings of fraudulence or doubt. And it’s the surest way that people will warm and connect to you.
When you get comfortable with who you are, then you’ll soon believe the truth about yourself as everyone else around you does too.