New middle managers, do you ever felt like you’re wearing shoes a size too big?
Dive deep into the elusive feeling we often call 'imposter syndrome'.
We'll explore the unique challenges faced by emerging leaders, from internal self-doubt to external pressures, and demystify the Four Corners of Doubt that might be holding you back.
We'll also discuss systemic biases and offer actionable strategies to embrace authentic leadership.
If you’ve ever questioned, 'Do I truly belong here?'—this episode is for you. Journey with us to a place of understanding, self-belief, and empowerment.
Well, hello there and welcome to another episode of rise in your nine to five I'm Liz. And if you are a new middle manager and you're on a journey. Not just to become a better leader, but really understand and value yourself along the way. You are in the right spot for this episode. You know, we've just started November as of the recording of this episode. And I'm can't help, but think about as we're getting towards the end months of the calendar year. It is really a natural time for reflection. So today we're gonna get into some reflection on a topic that so many of us wrestle with. Imposter syndrome.
So grab your cup of tea or coffee, or your drink of choice. And let's really jump into it. So first off you have probably heard this term before you may not have, but at this point, a lot of people have heard the term imposter syndrome. But one really interesting thing is, I don't know if you would know this. Not a lot of people do is that it was originally called imposter phenomenon. And in my world, I'm a bit of a word nerd.
I love words. And I do think words matter. So the change from phenomenon to syndrome is really interesting because I've gone looking and I've looked in lots of different places and still to this day, I have not been able to figure out when it exactly changed. I don't know when, so if you're listening to this and you actually know that, can you please let me know? Because I'm very interested to know this.
And the reason that I'm very interested in it is because that switch from phenomenon to syndrome could actually be reflective of that there is a lot of gender bias in our language. And so that switch could be related to that gender bias. And this has because the concept around syndrome or that the language of syndrome. It has a real air of severity. It has a lot packed into it that's often disproportionately affecting women in leadership roles. And the reason I mentioned this is because it's really interesting to know the historical origins of this concept is it first came out in 1978. There were two psychologists, Pauline rose cleanse, and Suzanne items, in 1978 they put out a paper. And their paper was based around their observations of patterns among high achieving women who were really struggling to internalize their success. So this phenomenon was about having a really hard time, seeing yourself as successful despite having achieved success. And their research focused on women, even though research since then, and even in their paper, they recognized it.
But research since then has really highlighted this. It, isn't not just women that experience it. So it is more of a phenomenon, more of a pattern beyond women. But I can't help but wonder if one of the reasons implicitly it shifted, like it's probably no one who. Explicitly was thinking about it, you know, Mr. Burns from Simpson style, you know what the. The steeple hands and kind of plotting away to diminish women's power. Like. I feel reasonably confident that is not what happened. But I can't help, but wonder whether the fact that this was originally about women and we often hear about imposter syndrome around women. Is there a gender bias in there?
Is that part of why the language shifted? And I don't know, but I do wonder about that. So that said. Imposter syndrome. Like I mentioned before, it is a very universal experience.
There's one stat that gets thrown around. I've thrown it around myself, actually in some of my work is that, you know, up to 70% of people experience that at some point in their careers or their lives, they experience imposter syndrome. And it's essentially that you're doubting your own capability even though there's evidence to the contrary. So even though you've had success, even though you knock your projects out of the park, you still doubt yourself.
You still doubt whether you can do it. And the biggest way this comes up is that people think they're about to be found out. That's where the imposter part comes up, because people are thinking I'm going to be found out as a fraud. It's only a matter of time. You know, one thing that I've heard, I've heard this so many times from separate clients, like completely independently . They mentioned that they have this. You know, I like to call it a day mare. You know, like those nightmares, but this is a de Mer happening in the day. Because my clients would tell me this recurring daydream of HR calling them up and saying, oh, there was actually a big mistake.
You were not meant to be hired. And so this is recurring fear that you were actually hired by accident. And so returning to the idea of new middle managers, if you're a new middle manager, you might really identify with that. If you're and identify with this phrasing around imposter syndrome and this idea that you might be found out. So I wanted to do an episode on this.
I do have other episodes that touch on imposter syndrome and other ways, but I wanted to share some of my core thoughts around it. And especially I'm going to be sharing something with you that is different. Of a way of thinking what imposter syndrome. I haven't seen anyone else speak about it this way.
This is, this is how I've always thought about it.
So what I'm starting to call it is the four corners of self-doubt. And basically this idea that imposter syndrome, isn't a one size fits all experience. And there's different authors who've written about this in other ways, and the different types of imposter syndrome and how it might show up for you. What I looked at. I'm going to be talking about are the systemic issues. The cultural biases that can feed into imposter syndrome. And I'll be talking about how I don't like calling it imposter syndrome for a lot, lots of reasons, including earlier, what I mentioned about potentially having a gender bias to that phrasing. I much prefer the term imposter messaging. Imposter messaging that there's a message out there or inside of yourself that you don't belong. And so that's where the piece around systemic issues really come into play.
So for example, you get promoted to middle management, you're now sitting at the table, you're paying closer attention to what's happening. And you look around the table and you don't see anyone who looks, sounds, or seemingly thinks like you. And suddenly you feel completely out of your element because you feel like you don't fit in and you're trying to figure out how can I be authentic here?
Who am I to be at this table? And at the same time, either consciously or unconsciously, you're also recognizing that you're in this situation of potential bias. And there are different histories and cultures in your organization that you, that you may or may not feel like you belong as part of it. And this is really challenging for new middle managers, right?
If you're a new middle manager, it's potential that you were a supervisor before, there's also good potential that you were a high, a high level individual contributor, and then moved into that more middle manager position. Either way. That's a really challenging spot to be in you're in the squeeze between senior execs, who, who hold a lot of the decision-making power and a number of people, but you end up feeling the squeeze between the two. And with this imposter messaging, what happens?
You got these four corners of doubt that I mentioned. So let's talk about that for a second. I want you to imagine a two by two kind of matrix or table. So imagine that. So on one access, you have the type of doubt or the type of messaging that comes up. And I like to think of it as being either chronic or acute. Okay.
So chronic means that it's a message that's really lasting over time. Whereas acute is something that's really short, a specific, it's a very short duration. It's like a flare up and then it goes away. So that's one access for this matrix. So on the other access for the matrix. Is the source. And this both of these aren't talked about very much, but I think especially the source is really not talked about enough. The source can either be internal or external. So internal sources are. Kind of like the little gremlins in our mind, that little whisper of a voice is not always so nice to us. Versus an external source can be anything from your workplace culture. Societal expectations or all the way to an explicit message that someone tells you something that they tell you, someone literally tells you something that makes you feel like you don't belong. So we have this matrix, right?
These four corners of doubt that make up these imposter messages. And I think this is really important to identify which imposter message you're experiencing. Because often the solution is going to vary depending on which one you're experiencing. And often it just simply really helps to understand is the oh. And for example, this concept of imposter syndrome for a lot of people, they're like, oh, I'm totally having it. Well, what, which imposter message are you actually having?
Like, it really helps you to, to see your situation when you can articulate it. Okay. So let's talk about these four corners in this matrix. So corner one is our chronic internal. So the chronic internal variety. Is really the, kind of the bog standard imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon as, as we hear about it. That's like the internal echo that you hear repeating over and over, over time, right.
That this is, this might have been. It might not have been with you your whole life, but it's certainly been with you longer than the last week or so. And there's this message that happens inside your, your own brain, basically saying you don't belong here or you didn't deserve it. And it just it's, it's always there kind of like this hum in the back of your mind. And when you're a new middle manager. This, you might've, you probably would have experienced this before, but this would be like, you're constantly feeling. Like you didn't deserve it, or you know, that you, that you're not as capable to be there. Like I said, this is very classic imposter phenomenon, as we've, as we've learned about it over, uh, over time.
Since the, since the concept first came out. Hey.
Then you have, so let's sorry. That's chronic, that's a corner one chronic internal. Then you have corner to chronic, external. So chronic, external self doubt or messaging, this comes out of systemic issues. So with this kind of imposter message, it's, it's less about that internal dialogue. Like the internal dialogue is there. But often you're all, you're really grappling with a work culture.
That's not exclusive. Uh, not inclusive. Or you have. A lot of people who are facing societal issues. Unconscious bias issues that are at play. In the broader society, but then especially in the workplace. You know, you might be in, in the culture, like your organizational culture, maybe they only reward really loud, aggressive voices. You know, the, the corporate narcissists out there and you're sitting there, you're there because you want to lead a great team.
You want to motivate people. You want to make things better. You want to be part of something bigger than yourself. Right. A lot of that comes with this terminology that, that I use around quiet ambition. You're quietly ambitious. There's a quiet ambition there. And so it just, you're getting these messages. Chronically that you don't belong.
Right. And I mentioned earlier that idea that you're sitting at a table and you can look around, you know, raise your hand if you're like me. And you've been at plenty of tables where you're an only. Right. And only woman and only person of color. I'm an only who thinks a certain way. Right. If you're neuro divergent or wings or neuro Spacey, I'd like to call myself. Right.
You're looking around and everyone else seems to think, or they look or they sound, or how, how they're approaching things all seem very different and they all seem the same and you feel very different. Right. If that's happening consistently over time, that's a chronic, external imposter message. Okay.
Now let's go over to corner three. So corner three is our acute internal. This is when you're typically fine. Right? You, so you don't really identify with those other stories of feeling this chronically over time. You're typically very, very fine, but then something happens. And inside of yourself, you've all of a sudden find yourself spiraling.
Maybe there is a deadline coming up or a critical tasks that suddenly you're doubting your own capability in being able to do whatever it is. This is like your, your own mind is ringing imposter alarm bells. And especially it's usually happens just when you don't need it. So if you're a new middle manager, a good example of this would be if you've never identified with imposter prism or imposter syndrome, whatever you want to call, it never identified it with ever in your career before.
And suddenly you get a new promotion, new scope of responsibilities, and you're like, oh my gosh, how can I even do this? I am. Maybe I didn't deserve it. I'm going to fail those, those kinds of imposter messages would be an acute internal message.
And then that leaves us with our final corner, which is the acute external. These are the ones like, like the acute internal, like it kind of flares up. It's not something that's been happening. Uh, chronically over time, but a flare up happens. The difference though, here is that it's triggered by something happening externally to you.
So an event happens or somebody says something and you get the flare up, questioning yourself, feeling self doubt. So it could be a project in go very well. And you get this flare up and it's not just a flare up of, of feeling badly about the project or, you know, questioning how it went. It's, it's a little stronger than that.
It's it's because it didn't go, well, it leaves you questioning whether you're actually capable of that role. Maybe you don't actually belong there. Maybe you are faking it and people are gonna realize that that you're not actually deserving of that role. Right. So it's not just simply that a project didn't go well, it's like, what does that expire? Experience trigger in terms of internal, um, thoughts that you're having. But I have bigger one that is often happens more that usually triggers it, especially acutely is someone says something.
So maybe a colleague implies that your success. You know, isn't really because of what you did. Um, for a lot of people, they might get a snide it's sort of passive aggressive as almost aggressive, but a microaggressive comment of like, oh, a diversity hire. Right. Little comments like that little things that just chip away at confidence. Now the difference here from the chronic is that whatever happens, it creates that acute flare up and you experience it. But then it come back down.
You're able to come back down versus that you're seeing it over and over and over, over time. Okay. But whatever it is, even if, even if you come back down, usually what happens is you go down a bit of a rabbit hole of self doubt, right? It can be really hard to pull yourself out of that. Hey. So those are our four corners of self-doubt the four types of imposter message. So. Before we, before we end and kind of wrap up though. Let's get a little bit actionable.
I want to give you a couple of ways of handling it of when these things happen.
Now the very first thing I want you to do is regardless of which imposter message or which corner of doubt is happening for you. I want you to confront it head on. I want you to be able to acknowledge that that half the thought happened, right? And this imposter message, whichever of the four quadrants, it is essentially it's then translating into our mind.
So we want to be able to acknowledge it without giving it power . You know, one of the biggest mistakes we can do is just try to ignore it. It's like we're trying to run away from it.
And that only lasts so long until it starts catching up with you until all these imp imposter messages just pile up and they can be such a heavy weight. So we have to be able to recognize when they're happening, acknowledge it. And what you'll notice over time is that it's not as difficult to recognize it, to confront it, to acknowledge it and to work through it. Okay.
So let's also give you some actual strategies depending on which quadrant you most identify with. So let's start with the acute internal, right? That's when all of a sudden a message flares up inside yourself, like you're just, it just, all of a sudden comes out of the blue and you're hit with it. When this happens, one thing you can do is, you know, jot down all of your achievements, that you've had things that you've had successes in the past.
Your strengths really think about how far you've already come in your career, rather than letting the overwhelm of the current situation or fears about an upcoming task overwhelm. You. And what also can be really helpful is keeping a brag file. Or for those of you who caught the episode with Melissa, we called it a smile file.
That's what she called. It is a wonderful phrase. Keep a smile file that you can refer back to that can remind you of how amazing you are. Hey, you really want to be able to reflect on those achievements and competencies when these flare ups happen. It's a fantastic time to remind yourself of just how amazing you are. Hey.
Now let's look at acute external, right? Remember that's that external messaging that it may be explicit, right? Someone may literally say something to you or you overhear something that is an imposter message. But it also can be implicit. Right. You're looking around the table and you're not like anyone else. Right. Remember that. So that's that. Acute external. I really want you to challenge the comment. And I don't necessarily mean challenge it out loud, although if you really want to work on, on, um, It confronting unconscious bias.
That is something we could do. And maybe I'll do a whole episode around that, bring in a guest expert. So as an aside, let me know if that's something you want me to do, but what I mean by challenge a comment, I mean, within yourself, right? Because that's essentially where we're dealing with these imposter messages is how it's resonating within our own minds. And a really great way to challenge it is to ask yourself. Is this really about me? Or is this about the other person's perception? Or even their bias.
Really, when you think about that, and this is linked actually back to one of the most recent episodes I did talking about self-doubt in meetings where you can even take it a step further and. Not just challenge. Have a question and wonder like, oh, is there any truth? Is there any truth to this? And by truth, when, I mean, is there anything that I want to take away from this?
Is there anything I can use from this to grow to better myself to improve who I am, right. And really come at it from that more curious perspective. And if there's not, that's where that other challenging part comes in, right. Thinking. Oh, that tells me a lot about their perception. Or that tells me a lot about their bias.
I got some good information there with that comment. Or this situation. Okay. That's your acute external. Now let's look at your chronic external. Hey, so that's when chronically over time, there's this external messaging where you're feeling like you don't belong. And for this, I really want you to make sure you have a support network, a really strong support network. You want to have allies within your organization.
You want to have sponsors you, you may have mentors as well, but you really want to have a strong allies ally network, and especially to have sponsors. Okay. Mentors can be helpful, but sponsors are those people who are going to put your name for it and it can make things happen for you. It's also really helpful to talk to people and to explicitly ask them about how they perceive your strengths and where, where they perceive you as going right.
Really put people into that positive mindset and giving positive feedback is so powerful to come at things from your strength perspective. Right. So this is kind of similar to, you know, I said earlier there, but the acute internal, which is, you know, jotting down your achievements and keeping that smile file.
Well, when you're having chronic, external imposter messaging, Really it's really powerful then to also get the external, positive messaging from people. That's it really make sure you have that network.
And then we have our classic imposter phenomenon, the chronic internal. So this is right where you're having it.
It's chronically over time and a classic version of this. And I've often heard is like, you're looking at your resume and you just can't believe that it's actually you, right. You're in this new position and you just still can't believe you got it. And you can't shake this. Feeling that you maybe didn't deserve it.
Right. Even though you had all of these accomplishments. Okay. So for this. One of the things you might want to think about is getting some more professional support. So Lee, a leadership coach, or even EAP or a therapeutic approach can be really helpful. And there's lots of different techniques to then to be able to really shift those mindsets and be able to come up with more powerful thoughts and really be able to see yourself in that more powerful way. So that's really can be really helpful. I also want to make a plug for looking at group leadership programs.
So one of the reasons I do group leadership programs is because I've seen that the power that happens when you get a group of folks together who are very different and come from different industries and from different backgrounds, different walks of life. And yet have that shared core philosophy around quiet ambition, showing up at being authentic, um, doing leadership for the right reasons, right?
To make the organization better, to lead great teams, to contribute to something bigger than yourself, right. You come together and you go through leadership exercises and coaching reflection, you know, guide guided conversations like that. That's a really, really what a group coaching program is all about. That is so powerful.
So I want to, I just want to make a play for group coaching in general, around these concepts. Yeah, I would love to obviously would love to see you in my program, but it doesn't even have to be my program, but I would love for you to think about that. Have a thing. See what's available to you. If you're, if you feel called, you can check out my program.
It's the mint ambition.com/bootcamp for my program. But anything where you can get into that group environment, a trusted group environment to share what you're going through is so powerful for chronic internal imposter messaging.
So there we go. This has been a big conversation, a bank topic around. Imposter
phenomenon and these different types of imposter messages that you might be encountering And when you're a new middle manager, it's just, it's really natural to have one, if not, possibly more, but one of these corners of self-doubt to crop up having these imposter messages. You know, popping up in your mind, it's really natural. And when you're starting to question yourself like, oh, do I belong?
Is this, am I really cut out for this? One thing I really want you to remember and hear me on this. Is that you do belong? You are meant to lead. You are amazing. You can do this. You're going to get through, I believe in you and I believe you're going to do. Amazing things. So with that, thank you so much.
Have yourself a wonderful rest of your day and week, and I'll see you back here next week for the next episode.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode. Now, before you go, make sure you click to follow the show this way you don't have to go looking for the latest episode. I'll come to you. Just click the plus button or the follow, and you'll get the latest episode fresh off the press. Thanks again. And remember that you are amazing. Now, get out there and RISE.