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Oh yes, I’m the great pretender

GG Blog

by Graeme Gordon

What do Freddie Mercury, Roy Orbison and Facebook have in common? The answer could have important implications for you and your organisation.

Mercury and Orbison both covered a song by The Platters called ‘The Great Pretender’. First released shortly after I was born, the song is about pretending to be ok when actually you are not.

Late last year, a friend of mine posted a Facebook rant about “imposter syndrome”. I have to admit I’d never heard of it before, but when he outlined what it was, I not only fully understood but completely empathised with it.

Imposter syndrome is described by Wikipedia as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud".

Have you ever thought to yourself, “How on earth did I get here?” or “Did they know what they were doing when they gave me this role?” This is imposter syndrome.

I know I have had similar thoughts, and still have such thoughts from time to time. I overcome them in two ways. Firstly, by always striving to at least live up to if not exceed expectations, and secondly, by immersing myself in the work required to attain the goals expected of me, and by me.

My friend wrote in his Facebook post: “My personal theory is that almost every professional irrespective of their gender will recognise these feelings and will have experienced them to a greater or lesser extent.”

I would add one key caveat. Those individuals with any semblance of power over others, especially those with the greatest level of social or political power, such as CEOs, presidents, prime ministers and heads of state, who do not experience any degree of imposter syndrome are usually very dangerous. Although, thankfully, not always. That’s why modern democracies and large organisations have  significant checks and balances.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a great difference between being convinced of the veracity of your argument and despotism or autocracy. You have to be convinced that any action you take is right, or at least the “least worst” option, to be able to fulfil an action.

However, if you don’t consider the options and listen to alternative voices, the probability is you will, more often than not, fail in your real objective.

Now, back to us mere mortals, with our constant nagging doubts.

Remember two key things when you feel like an imposter or question your own abilities to fulfil the role you have been chosen for.

Firstly, you were indeed “chosen”. So, it follows that others are convinced you are cable of fulfilling the role and meeting their expectations. Secondly, having such doubts is actually a good thing. Not only does it show you are human and thus capable of self-criticism, but it should prove you are capable of rational behaviour.

Introspection like this on a regular basis is good grounding experience. If combined with positive 360 appraisals and attentive consultation, I believe this should ensure you are able to fulfil your role to the absolute best of your ability.

In conclusion, I can only reiterate an answer I gave in a recent podcast interview. When asked what I’d like people to say of me when I leave this role, I said: “I hope they think I added value to the organisation, and that it was good to have me on board.”

You can never be sure what others think of you. But if you’ve done your best, and you believe you did the right thing the right way, no one should ask more of you. By all means ask others for advice, or get them to review your work, because too often you can fail to ‘see-the-woods-for-the-trees’, but constantly questioning yourself or expressing doubts about your ability publically, is often counter-productive.