How to feel more “leader syndrome” than “imposter syndrome”
As a 29 year old female investor, who has built multiple businesses from the ground up and advised dozens of entrepreneurs on how to grow their businesses, I know how crippling imposter syndrome can be and I’m sure I have lost out on opportunities because of the seed of self doubt that was planted by societal norms and traditional working-standards that I observed all around me, daily. I would ask myself - is my ‘success without sacrifice’ ethos really a credible business strategy?
Surely there must be a reason these businesses have been operating and treating their employees a certain way for long, what do I know? And I realised that what I was doing was waiting for someone else to confirm my leadership instincts and give me permission to let my inner leader out of her box (or as I like to call her - my inner CEO).
Now, as I go on the journey of acquiring businesses into our portfolio brand, Allied Global Engineering - these tips I share in this article have been game-changing for me. Because no one but myself can make me feel deserving of being seen as a credible acquisition entrepreneur and investor. No one knows what I’m feeling, or why I didn’t say a word in that meeting.
As young high achievers that look different and act different, no one will assume the value we bring and no one can recognise what is missing from the conversation that we can add. If we don’t learn how to intentionally feel more “leader syndrome” than “imposter syndrome” then our potential will always be limited. And our “feeling” of not belonging will create a reality in which we desire to escape - I don’t know about you, but this is certainly not my idea of ‘success without sacrifice’. So in this article, I share with you my journey and some practical tips that have made a real difference to me and my life as a 29-year-old female investor…
It’s common for me to go into a room (whether that be a physical room OR a zoom room) these days and be the only woman in the room. It’s pretty much guaranteed that I am going to be the only woman in her twenties in that same room.
Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb… although whilst I may stand out from the crowd, I seem to also become invisible. Often I am the only one not asked to introduce themselves, with the assumption probably being that I don’t have as much value to offer the conversation, or that someone else’s introduction will explain why I’m sat there. In fact, I would consider it a newly developed skill I’ve acquired to seamlessly interrupt a conversation to introduce myself without destroying the flow and leading to the dreaded awkward silence.
When the people who are stood between you and success see you a certain way (or in this case - don't see!), it’s hard not to absorb that narrative and ask the question: “Do I deserve to be here?”. Especially when you are already a recovering people-pleaser with a fear of rejection, which many of us are. Sometimes it can feel that one awkward social interaction has the power to unravel years of personal growth. But as an ambitious millennial who has been taught in parallel to the messages of social anxiety that I can also change the world if I just work both hard and smart… or is it just smart now? I’m losing track of the social norms expected of my generation… I refuse to back down from my potential.
And so I wanted to write something helpful to other up-and-coming leaders and business owners that isn’t necessarily an instruction guide on how to be a good leader/entrepreneur - I believe you’ve got that down already. But instead how to FEEL like a leader, worthy of voicing whatever you damn-well please, in a conversation where you are in fact probably the highest achiever there (how else would you have got in that room in the first place!?)
It’s common knowledge that HOW we feel impacts how we perform in any given situation, whether we are about to step up to the start line in an Olympic race or we are walking into the board room of some fancy-pants corporation asking for investment for our business. So the sooner you learn to conquer your imposter syndrome, the sooner your leader syndrome is free to live and enact its potential.
Here are my 3 top tips for doing this:
Build your confidence bank…
Like I’ve said already, you have made it to the super scary room for a reason. You aren’t there by accident. You have all the evidence you need to feel totally confident and worthy of being where you are, no matter how other people react to you being there. But it’s easy to forget all that when you are staring down the barrel of the rejection gun.
So when I say “build your confidence bank,” what I’m really saying is to collect all the evidence you need to remind yourself of how epic you are - whether it’s a physical list of your achievements/qualifications/skills that you write out by hand and read whenever you need to feel like your best self, OR you simply recount these in your head as you’re walking down the corridor to the boardroom/through the door of the networking event/across the field to the start line.
If you’re doing this for the first time, I would certainly advise you to write this list out and have it be all-encompassing i.e. every achievement both big and small that you are proud of in your life. The bigger the list, the badder you’ll feel.
Don’t fake it until you make it - Act as if…
These may sound like the same thing upon first read, but whilst the differences appear slight, the differences FEEL significant. I believe “faking it” to mean pretending to be something you’re not, putting on a character that isn’t reflective of who you are or what you actually believe in because you’re trying to fit in. But this way of adapting to the room is a massive disservice to you. Like we’ve already covered, you came to be in that room for a reason, and if you morph into a character that’s just like everyone else, you lose your genius. The “you” who was different enough in the first place to accelerate your growth above and beyond everybody else. It also feels terrible to squash down who you really are and you quickly dread the situations like this in which you are out of your comfort zone and business starts to feel a lot less fun than it used to.
“Acting as if,” I believe means visualising the best version of yourself, the “you” that achieves your big vision and “acting as if” you are already them. By “acting” like the person you will inevitably become, you are adhering to the ‘practice makes perfect’ sentiment, and you accelerate your personal growth as a result. It isn’t about being different to who you are, it’s about being evolved… I know the cynics among you may argue these are the same thing, but they are really not. The evolved version of you has the same values, the same beliefs, the same vision, but they are simply more experienced in handling challenges, in bouncing back from rejection and in doing what needs to be done to bring the grand plan to life.
To figure out what the ‘evolved’ version of you (or what I call the CEO version of you) looks like, thinks like and acts like, again I advise you to answer those questions on paper:
How does the best version of you you show up to important events physically and mentally?
How does your empowered CEO self react to closed body language and either intentional or unintentional discrimination?
How does your evolved self, mentally and emotionally, process both achievements and challenges on a daily basis?
How does the best version of you prepare for the scenario you are walking into? (Confidence can often come from being sure of your competence and if you have prepared adequately, you will feel competent.)
If you can act as if you are already there, you will temporarily at least, feel, think and respond to the outside world like the best version of yourself, until you ultimately evolve into this version of you for good.
Embrace and champion the benefits of being young and/or different.
I feel like I spent my whole twenties wishing I could be 30 so I could walk into a room of older, wiser individuals and feel worthy of being heard. As I approach my 30s now, I can’t help but now see the benefits of being young… and I do honestly believe that these are strengths that can be harnessed to feel like the most qualified leader in any room…
Keep being naively optimistic - what probably looks like acts of bravery to those older than us is actually just our genuine belief that everything will be ok because we haven’t yet experienced otherwise… or we’ve experienced far worse in our short lives already and we just don’t think a business failure can compare. From interviewing many successful guests on the Millionaire Secrets Podcast, and also reflecting on my own story, so many successful young entrepreneurs found the courage to act on their dreams because they didn’t actually believe it was brave to do so, in fact, the risk of their decisions was barely thought about. I quit my job at 25 before my side hustle was generating revenue because I genuinely believed it was all going to be ok - and it was! And even if it turned out to be a massive failure, which in fact that side hustle sort of was, I knew there would be something else on the doorstep, in my case it was a 6 figure, health product based network marketing business that helped me progress into the next level entrepreneur I needed to be for what I did next - business consulting and mentoring.
Keep bringing the innovation - one of the benefits of being a young business owner or leader is having the freedom to innovate and create change before you really even know what you are changing. So many old school corporations are trapped in a downwards trajectory because they simply can’t escape from the way they’ve always done things. When actually, the most successful businesses today are built on disruption and doing things the way no one else does them. It’s actually incredibly hard to innovate when you have a lifetime of ingrained belief systems, ritualistic thought patterns and work practices you’ve been doing day in day out for years. Being unburdened by tradition is a great advantage in business because it means we can adapt quicker, learn faster and predict the future easier.
These are just a couple of examples to reflect on, but you get the gist. So don’t be afraid to combat any cynicism or ignorance you may experience in relation to you either being young or different with benefits like these. When you can use examples like this which are based on logic rather than emotion, you actually stand a chance of proving to yourself and others that you fully deserve to FEEL the warm, glowy feelings of your leader syndrome and NOT your imposter syndrome.
As I’ve grown and evolved as an entrepreneur and leader, I have also been struck with the reality that imposter syndrome (for me at least) does return occasionally. But, now I can see it as a sign of growth and therefore adopt the perception that isn’t there to hinder me, but to persuade me to up-level my personal growth. It is a feeling I can welcome with open arms for a short visit as it is a sign that I am playing bigger, with more influential people, and making more of an impact than I ever have before. But the quicker we can get into leader syndrome - the better! And so I simply revisit these principles and they are thankfully just as effective at every level of my growth… So I know they can help you too. But like anything, you need to try them more than once, you need to make strategies like this a habitual thinking pattern and train your brain to think like this instinctively over time.
We all have an inner CEO within us, but the first person we have to convince of that is ourselves. Often we feel our imposter syndrome before we’ve even stepped into the environment with people who we fear might “catch us out” and then we perceive their behaviour in our way which confirms our imposter syndrome. So please use these tips to first convince yourself. And I promise you… the people who matter will notice and respect you for it.