I had a personal “aha” last week, or more accurately Judith Cardenas offered me a great insight. Hope I can compact it here. Our conversation touched two different issues in quick succession – the way conversations jump oddly sometimes. Judith was talking about massive demographic changes, how thousands of minorities and women – and minority women – are moving up in organizational systems. For many, it’s tough. Judith talked about how challenging it is to walk into a boardroom, for instance, if you were acculturated through overt or just subtle messages that said you had no place in a boardroom.
Judith was suggesting I should speak to women-on-the-rise, out of my strength as a leadership expert. She also thought I could speak out of my experience of watching my wife hit speed bumps and shatter glass ceilings. Oddly this discussion bumped into a point I was sharing – an odd synchronicity. I was sharing with Judith my personal and sometimes arduous journey to lead in what used to be the women’s sphere, raising kids and supporting a high-achieving spouse. And so what really struck me was the connection she was making: She helped me realize in a hot second of awareness that I have a really darned good idea what that woman feels like at the board room, because I hear voices all the time that tell me that I don’t belong here, that I’m an impostor as the lead parent in our home. “You are one terrible mom,” the message pops up from within. “You mess up the schedule, forget their lunches, don’t know the other kids’ parents, aren’t as interested as you should be in their homework or field trips” and on and on: “Jennifer would be so much better than you,” the voice goes on. “You’re not doing a tenth of what your mom did.”
Adding insult to injury, another internal voice (surely derived from my male upbringing) says, “get over it, loser. Just do the job that you know is important, and that you’re more than good enough at.” I suspect I’m not alone in the cycle of self-doubt and self-recrimination. Indeed, I know I’m not alone. I see kids on varsity who think they don’t belong there; supervisors who are shadowed by self-doubt; and I’ve coached high-level executives who couldn’t shake the fear they didn’t belong. A little web-searching turns up research on what is sometimes called the “impostor syndrome.” This “syndrome” was first noted by high-achieving academic women who fought (themselves) to gain confidence. In our time, I wonder how many men who are the lead parent similarly experience this type of sabotaging uncertainty. Many of us could probably benefit from Hal and Sidra Stone’s book, Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self Criticism into a Creative Asset.
Today’s RFL is not prescriptive. It’s just about awareness and self-truth-telling. Perhaps others can offer comments that extend the learning.
Awareness always helps you to
Lead with your best self!
p.s. I really do love to speak to women about leadership, and we’ve got to figure out how men can start talking about our new roles leading – in the most important leadership place of all – the home!
Audio: Imposters and the Inner Obstacle to Leadership