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  • Writer's pictureS Clarke

An impostor in our midst

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

You’re excited. Your first day in a new job, in a new company, in a new industry; it’s akin to your first day of senior school. Gone is the knowledge that you are one of the experienced elders, familiar with the layout and political workings of your old stomping ground, and fresh-faced, you stand there, in awe of the task ahead. Now you don’t even know where the coffee machine is. You’re terrified.

The good (and bad) news here is that there is no secret formula to success in such situations. It requires simply hard work, commitment and the avoidance of too much destructive self-doubt……

Over the course of my career to date, I have been in this position several times. This is why I’ve been able to empathise with the new colleagues that have joined my sales teams over the past few years, and been in a position to help their transition.

Of course all roles and industries are different, but typically in sales it takes about three months for things to start falling into place in a new role. An additional three months is needed to be active and to start achieving in new surroundings and approximately nine to twelve months will have elapsed before a new starter is truly ‘pointy and dangerous’ in a commercial sense.

During this time, as a leader and manager of a sales team, it's important to not only track the commercial progress of the person you hired, but also to track their emotional adjustment to and progress within the role.

The euphoric post-interview/hire feeling can fade quickly for new employees once they join a business and realise the challenge that has been bestowed upon them. While it’s important to stop short of ‘hand-holding’, I believe it’s crucial to help employees remember why you hired them in the first place. Some individuals can benefit from this more than others.

New starters busy themselves learning everything they can. They constantly remind themselves of the formula for success and do everything they can to get up to speed quickly and start contributing. Having a validated and comprehensive induction process can be key in aiding transition into a new business, but even with this is place, some become overwhelmed and may start to shift through the various emotional states of fear (can I do this?), self-doubt (can I do this?) and regret (should I have left my last role?).

This is when you realise that there’s an impostor in your midst…….

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been ambushed during the recruitment process and chosen poorly; you may simply have a new employee that occasionally will need some help to see what you saw at that final interview. Of course, not everyone responds to the same stimuli in the same manner and I don’t believe there exists a management approach that suits all, but some employees will follow your lead if you help them to see themselves in the right light. An ex-manager of mine was particularly good at this – taking the time to help me realise why I’d been chosen to work there in the first place. Regaining perspective of the situation and one’s self and abilities at such times can make these almost defining moments.

“You know more than you think you do”

“You’re much more capable than your realise”

It’s strange how sometimes it takes someone else to believe in you to make you believe in yourself, but it happens. Clance and Imes coined the term in 1978[1] and whilst perceived originally as an ingrained personality trait, Impostor Syndrome is more recently considered a reaction to certain situations and therefore a psychological response to mental stimuli. In my experience, once you help these employees – they remember. It drives loyalty, productivity, outcomes and employee satisfaction. In my experience, their innate bias to action and drive to gain validation from their immediate management helps them produce at a very high level. Again, it’s important to avoid becoming a crutch but I’d take recruits who occasionally suffer from Impostor Syndrome over those that have over-inflated egos, and oftentimes lack a high degree of self-awareness, every time the choice is offered (self-belief and drive should not be confused with hyper inflated self-worth). It is remarkably simple to help people along when they perhaps can’t get out of their own way at certain junctures, or when faced with certain deadlines or tasks. As a manager and a leader, it’s also the right thing to do.

Sometimes people just need to stop, look behind them, and see how far they’ve climbed already. They likely know much more than they realise and almost certainly are better at this than they think they are.

You’ll be amazed at what taking the time to convey those sentiments and thoughts to people can help them to achieve.

  1. Clance, Pauline R.; Imes, Suzanne A. (1978). "The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention". Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice.

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