When I take on new clients I have a Client Intake Questionnaire that they are required to fill out. A prospects response to this CIQ is a rather detailed confession of their needs, apprehensions, and a list of what is holding them back in achieving their goals. Despite its probing intensity I am often surprised by how honestly prospects respond to these rather very personal items and bare their souls before even having their first session with me.
Of course, such detailed and personal responses to the CIQ help me understand where I can and should help my new client in their career and lifes pursuits. Now that I have worked with more than 6,000 clients in 23 countries I have compiled an impressive pattern of clients needs for coaching. Although there are several themes that can be codified from these CIQs and addressed in making my coaching effective for clients to receive value from it, one that stands out above others is what has been labeled as an Imposter Syndrome!
The origins of this phrase go back to 1978 when two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, gave it this name: the impostor syndrome. They described it as a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of high achievement. While these people are highly motivated to achieve, they also live in fear of being found out or exposed as frauds.
CIQ is not the only place where this admission of an imposter syndrome crops up. Some clients openly admit feeling this way after being engaged with me for many years. One recent case was a client, who first came to me five years back. As a young, rather smart software engineer he was a Lead at a major software company in the Silicon Valley. He wanted help in moving up the ladder and make something for himself. So, during the five years we first made a plan for his growth and worked on it diligently (he did all the hard work). Today he is a vice president at a different company that is one of the fastest growing multi-billion dollar companies in the Valley. He is now responsible for a large group of engineers and others. In a recent conversation with me he admitted feeling like a fraud when he realized that many of his other VP peers are more experienced than he was and were also smarter.
When clients express this concern about being found out as fraud or as an imposter I assure them that they are not alone in this sentiment. Many famous people have felt this way and have openly expressed this in these exact words. Seth Gooding, Tina Fey, Maya Angelou, Sheryl Sandberg, Sonia Sotomayer, among many others, have admitted to feeling this way about themselves!
So, what are some of the ways you can deal with this feeling of inadequacy? Here is what I suggest to my clients:
- Make a list: One of the first things I tell my clients is to make a list of their achievements in a way that they can accept it. This is not just a checklist of what they accomplished in the recentand not so recentpast, but a narrative of how they did it. Although not all my clients need to write their rsumsthey are not looking for another jobI ask them to write their recent accomplishments in a story-telling format, for which I have a structured approach. I work with them to shape their stories, which are based on their innate genius. Once they own that story and see their genius popping out of these stories I see a broad smile on their face of ownership of their each accomplishment. So, doing some soul searching and being honest with yourself in telling your stories of accomplishments can be a great step to overcome this imposter syndrome.
- Accept a compliment: High achievers often get kudos for their work. What they do not do is to probe further when someone gives them a compliment for their great work. A typical response when a senior executive says something good about your recent work is to respond by saying, Oh, that was nothing. I was glad to jump in and do what could. Instead, when you receive a compliment probe further and ask that person why they felt it was such a big deal. Listen to them carefully and even probe further in how they fashion their response to you. In many cases they will tell you things that you overcame without your awareness. Thank them for their insights and go back to your desk and write it down. Keep a compilation of such kudos and visit them each time when you feel like a fraud.
- Stop comparisons: In the case of the VP client I mentioned earlier he went on and on during our session about how much better all the other peer VPs were and how he felt inferior to them. Then I asked him to draw his org chart with those peers and spell out what they did in their work unit. As he started describing each VPs role and how his boss deals with them it was clear to both of us that my client had some special attributes and organizational skills that other VPs did not have. So, after this revelation we decided to focus on this strength and to continue to use that strength to further his agenda. This client is now feeling more worthy with the value he brings to the organization.
- Envision your future self: We all want to grow and make something of ourselves. The problem with embracing growth is that it takes effort and you have to work at it in unproductive ways. We often feel more comfortable doing things that we do well and in the process avoid those that make us look like amateurs. So, the secret to growth is to first embrace a growth path and then embark on the journey to improve yourself by just keeping your efforts, even though you are struggling. Diligent practice and effort have a cumulative effect of taking you to the skill level, where you no longer feel embarrassed about the skill you have mastered.
- Realize that nobody knows what they are doing: Often people present themselves as experts and fail miserably at dealing with the simplest of challenges. In life it is not what you know but it is how you use what you know. A PhD may intimidate you because of their degree, but that does not mean that they know more than you do. It merely means that they have spent more time on a topic than you have. So, do not be intimidated by degrees, titles, or their station. Be confident in what you bring and let what you know stand on its own.
Feeling like an imposter is a figment of your own making and it is merely a mental process. So, knowing these tips on how to fight this mindset may prepare you to deal with it in a more forceful way!
Good luck and a Happy New Year!
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.
After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.
During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.
Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.
Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.
Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.
Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.
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