Impostors and the Inner Obstacle to Leadership

Friends,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 toLead with your best self!Danp.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!
Friends,
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!
Dan
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

Friends,

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!

Dan

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

15 responses to “Impostors and the Inner Obstacle to Leadership

  1. Thanks for that! My husband has a Ph.D. in Biology, and we chose for him to be a stay at home Dad for our daughter. He has faced snide remarks and side long glances from some people as a result of the choice. I did not consider the fact that he may be experiencing the same resistance that women have and do feel in the workplace or other once male-dominated spheres. How wonderful that we have these choices now, and the spouse with the most aptitude and desire for staying at home can do it.

  2. Dan –
    Your subject today hit close to home. I had the honor of having my youngest daughter with me from age 4 to age 14 as a single (male) parent. I’m sure there were some comments behind my back, and I wasn’t as active in the parent/school meetings and committees as I would like to have been – I was working full time (self employed). I think I was aware and tuned in to the big bad world out there, and still feel it’s hard to pull something over on me. I found out that the kids today are confronted with vast peer pressures and the drug scene that can create monsters. My daughter did graduate from Virginia Commonwealth Univ.and today has given me my first and only grandchild – a terrific little girl. The in between would make a good book.
    I can only say that you hope you are on top of things, do the best you can and be available all the time, and if you have doubts in some area, don’t be afraid to ask friends or professionals for some advice – no one has all the answers, and answers vary with the situation. Just know that you’re doing the best you can, and anticipate worse case scenarios if possible – and hope they don’t come your way.
    I have never felt guilty that I didn’t try and do my best. We’re not all as capable or skilled as others, but just do the best we can and keep trying. I never felt my shortcomings were because I was a male, and a female could have done a better job. I have a lot of respect for parenting – it can be a full time job and you’ll still make mistakes or miss something. All in all, it’s a lot of fun and can be very rewarding.

  3. Dan,

    what a great thing to share with all of your readers. You are in a unique position to see how hard it can be for men and women who do things outside of “traditional” roles. I really enjoyed reading your insights.

  4. Yes, Dan, those “aha” moments of self awareness are so important to facilitating change.

    Being unaware, we unconsciously engage our default behavior. Only when we become aware of something, are we able to make choices as to the action we wish to take. Sometimes, just being aware, allows the problem to solve us–rather than requiring us to solve the problem.

    Here are some steps of a mental model/cycle that can help us allow our preceptions to evolve:

    Beliefs influence perception.
    Perception structures reality.
    Reality suggests possibilities.
    Possibilities generate choices.
    Choices initiate actions.
    Actions affect outcomes.
    Outcomes impact beliefs.
    Awareness facilitates change.

  5. Good morning, Dan!

    What a fabulous insight and thank you the generosity in sharing it with us! At our April café (Inspiring Women Collaborative Café) the topic came up if men were invited to these cafes or have a café just for them or if we would do a joint one for both genders to explore the support and inspiration needed in today’s society as well as deeper understanding of the current evolving roles and the complexity that comes with it! Our current café creates a space for great minds and hearts to come together for the purpose of being inspired by and inspiring other women. Your insight informed my thinking about a larger question…a deeper question that is beyond one gender. I may have to host a café to explore this …thank you!

  6. Let’s also put the priority of parenting into an economic perspective. Tomorrow a bill addressing pay equity is scheduled to be introduced in the Michigan State Legislature.
    As a woman college graduate in the 1970’s, I found interesting employment in a 90% male-dominated national field sales force that included some pragmatically liberal male managers. My territory was in the heart of the Midwest. There were some corporate adjustments and hiccups. (I do remember that being single at the time made me a little envious of the men whose wives held the fort at home, with or without children.) Fast forward to find that women soon often led in performance, not only in that company but industry-wide. After moving to Michigan, I returned to school for a professional degree, in a different field, coincidentally also male-dominated. In just a few years, I encountered more than social barriers in education and at work. My women colleagues were systematically offered and paid less, even than less-qualified men. We also were on the leading edge (sorry for this contextual and ironic pun) of layoffs, being considered likely ‘supplementary’ earners.
    If Michigan can successfully address workplace and pay equity, we might also make inroads on the issues of health and education for children, parents and community members who will be among the leaders we need to achieve the best future we can envision.

  7. Dan,

    Thank you for admitting to experiencing doubt. A little doubt, like a little pain or a little fear, is a good thing. Doubt, like pain and fear, helps us define and understand our limits — be they innate or self-imposed — and to recognize when we have exceeded those limits. Without pain, there would be no safety. Without fear, there would be no courage. Without doubt, there would be no faith. To exist without stress, one must be asleep, unconscious, or dead.

    Your willingness to step outside traditional roles helps define you. Your willingness to risk the pain of rejection by those who cannot or will not understand, to face the fear of failure, and to endure those insidious voices of self-doubt we all know so well, demonstrates your strength of will, courage in the face of failure, and your faith in yourself, your family, and the choices you have made. To lead others, you must first lead yourself — past the discomfort and pain of non-conformity — past the fear of failure — and past those shadows cast by self-doubt and uncertainty.

    Each morning, I have to ask myself, “Who am I, today?” Any day that I can truthfully answer, “Just me!” is going to be a good day. Thanks for your insight and thanks for sharing.

    Mick

  8. Self Confidence and Self Doubt are both taught in USMC NCO Leadership school. Anyone who thinks they are always right is just as dangerous as anyone who thinks they are always wrong. Every leader has to listen to both voices. When we are stalled in Analysis Paralysis or when we stop listening to the council of our teams because we know what is right are the Yin and Yang of Leadership. My philosophy is to allow self doubt as a healthy part of leadership but refuse to allow it to drag on too long. I also try to only look back at the past as a means of learning because you really can’t change or even redefine history (Spin). I wish that I could say that I have mastered the philosophy above; but it really is a daily struggle for me.

    My perspective, Dave

  9. I am constantly fighting with the voice in my head that says I am not “good enough” or smart enough or sophisticated enough or _______enough (fill in the blank) to have a leadership position. I believe many of us fear that somehow our deficits will be found out and we will be exposed and criticized for even thinking we could do the job, help others in a meaningful way, calm the storm, raise responsible adults, etc., etc., etc.

    I give you and our Governor great credit for tackling family and careers with a pioneering spirit! As more people prove successful leadership is not gender, race, age, or socio-economically, or ____________ dependent (fill in this blank, too,) others will feel confident enough to see themselves as leadersin whatever they do. You and your wife are leaders on many levels in many arenas!

    The Mayor

  10. Dear almost Imposter Dan,

    There is an ancient Greek play called, “The Wasps.” It has nothing to do with white Anglo Saxon protestants. It has to do with human nature. So maybe you are experiencing the wasps. If one wasp bites you, you will probably live unless you have a rare allergy. But after a number of stings any person will die, or in your case perhaps starting to believe the things you hear. This is strangely similar to brain washing. The point is we need to realize that the wasps are doing something morally wrong. We need to learn to accept that persons who are doing something necessary, or important may not be the kind of person we generally see in that role.

    As to the criticism itself, it is common to receive criticism for what you have not done, while receiving no credit, praise or thank-you for what you have done. You, I am certain have seen this in a business/ work place setting. It is the same in other aspects of life. We must fill in the praise ourselves, if not received from elsewhere. Tell yourself that while you forgot to pack the boy’s lunch, you did get him to school, and the dentist, and made sure he had the uniform for a sport, and got him to church and cathecism and many other things. And remind yourself that your parents forgot a few things when it came to you. Mark John Hunter – Alpena

  11. Hi Dan – Great article today and thanks for sharing the fact that you now know how a woman feels. I would like to suggest that you have you increase your awareness just one more notch. You see as a executive level working mother we have two challenges. The first is in the boardroom and the second is in the school. Next time your at one of your kids events. Notice the women that runs into the room 30 seconds before the event starts (blackberry in one hand and briefcase in the other.) Notice how other women respond to her. You see, unfortunately working moms also have challenges at the school/sporting events. Unfortunately, their is a double standard at school too. It’s ok for a Dad to come late, take an important call or buy “store bought cookies for the bake sale”.

    So, next time you see an working Mom at school, give that Mom a wink and let her know she is doing a great job too!

    We all have different circumstances and make different choices. None of us are better or worse. We just are different. That’s what makes us all unique and special.

    Thanks for listening.

  12. Dan:

    Well said today! It is very refreshing to hear such honesty and reflection from anyone, let alone another man about what is or isn’t yours or anothers role in society. As long as you and your spouse remember that your relationship and your parenting outcomes are number one, it doesn’t matter who does what, its a team effort. That is leadership! I like what I think you’re suggesting, we all need to question and live an examined life. Doubt and overcoming is just part of the journey to getting to a better place.

  13. Your comments about the inequalitites of “working moms” and “stay at home/working dads” was quite interesting. It inspired me to think of another social norm that women display in the work force in increasing numbers over the past 10 years. It is the inequality and lack of support that women give each other in the workplace. Time and again I have seen a double standard, whereby women are promoted not because of their skills and knowledge but because they can look like men (and sadly other women) would like them to look. There was a very successful emplolyment option that was used in the 1980s (job sharing) which allowed working parents (both men and women) to share responsibilities with a co-worker and still maintain emotional/home support of his/her family. Where leaders are not threatened by co-workers, this is a wonderful alternative to having to choose between work and family.

  14. While members of both genders may be riddled with doubt, it appears to me that women are more likely to take blame / responsibility for whatever lacks they perceive. It seems to me that men are more likely to take risks. Like, “So what if I’m not qualified yet to do the job? I’m going to give it a whack anyway!” Women, on the other hand, it seems to me, are more likely to say, “Oh, I can’t apply for that job; I don’t have the (5 years of experience, Master’s Degree, etc.)”

    I see a lot of well-educated women working under less-qualified men, often doing the job for their boss, carrying the load of responsibility, while he gets the credit and the pay and she gets the occasional attagirl.

    “Behind every successful man is a (possibly underpaid / well-qualified and hard-working) woman.”

    Have we come a long way?

    It’s great that a man in a leadership position has a clue about how hard it is to be the full-time parent, and is willing to share that publicly. Thanks for leading with your best self, Dan! Thanks for your willingness to be a full-time parent, because that frees Governor Granholm to be fully present while on the job, without having to split her mind, as many working parents do, distracted with thoughts about how one kid will get to soccer game and how the other will get home from the piano lesson.

  15. This strikes home as a white male primary care giver.

    Often the job that may desire my wife’s demographics simply would not even consider me as a white male. (regardless of qualifications)

    Culturally as we strive to become more diverse all the white male seats @ the board room table are already filled by the anointed or the white of hair.

    In this ever changing world we have to do the job available to us. This propels both genders into the unknown.

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