A personal account by Al Shalloway

I don’t get imposter syndrome as much as I used to, but I can remember when I did. And sometimes, it was pretty traumatic. Over the years, I’ve learned a few techniques that make the feeling of being an imposter a positive technique. Let me explain what I learned.

Imposter syndrome is doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. When this happens, it’s essential to take a quick retrospection of what’s happening. Usually, imposter syndrome comes along with an internal conversation: “there’s something I need to know how to do, but I don’t know how and don’t want anyone to know.”

Consider these possibilities. What is it I don’t know? Is it something

  1. I can find out by asking the client?
  2. The client and I can figure it out?
  3. No one could know at this point, and we have to investigate?
  4. Is it something I should know now? (i.e., I am an imposter)

When one considers the first three possibilities, it’s often clear you’re not an imposter, you just need help. Remember that we are experts only in domains. You’re not an expert in the company you’re assisting. They are. I always let clients know:

  1. I have experience and knowledge in improving organizations
  2. They know their org better than I ever will
  3. We need to work together to find the best solution

When you start with these agreements, imposter syndrome mostly tells you what you need to learn from the client or what you and the client need to learn together.

Managing possibility #3 above, which is very common, is more tenable when you do this. It also makes it OK that you don’t have all the answers. You provide safety for them as well for not knowing the answer.

It’s always good to have someone to confide in, especially when #4 seems true. Don’t look to see if you know it all, look to see if you’re capable of helping. Let them know that. It takes courage but builds trust. Focus on them, not you. Move forward together. If they expect you to know it all, you are doomed anyway. 🙂

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