In most organisations, someone who is good at their job will, at some point or another, earn a promotion. However, when the promotion comes with leadership responsibilities, many people lack the requisite skillset for their new role. What was required previously may not be what’s required when you are tasked with leading a team of people.
The Imposter Syndrome
When people come to this realisation they may feel out of their depth and vulnerable and this can be especially true if they have been promoted to lead the team they were once a part of. Yet if they tell anybody how they are feeling, they’ll likely hear the well-meaning advice of, “Just fake it till you make it.”
Feeling the need to ‘fake it’, implies you – or the people giving you this advice – believe you’re undeserving of the new role and the Imposter Syndrome takes a firm hold.
So, in an attempt to prove your worth, you might find yourself doing one or both of the following things: you offer advice and solutions to your team’s challenges, or you end up doing their work for them. After all, you do know how to do their job and you were good at that, that’s why you got promoted.
The problem with ‘faking it’ till you make it
However, both these approaches are flawed as you don’t know everything, (this is why you feel you need to ‘fake it’) so the answers and solutions you offer are likely – at best – superficial fixes to more complex problems. At worst, just plain wrong. On the other hand, if you step in to do other people’s work for them, you limit their growth which inevitably leads to more challenges down the track.
Over time the impact of working this way starts to reduce your team’s trust in you. People stop coming to you with questions or concerns because they see that your way of leading makes things worse. Instead, they try to solve (or cover up) problems themselves and often settle for inferior work or poor team dynamics.
You never really ‘make it’ by ‘faking it’
Unfortunately, many leaders who have been ‘faking it’ to this point, perceive the lack of questions, problems or disagreement as evidence they have “made it.”
It’s at this point that all learning, growth and development, both on an individual and collective level, ceases. Furthermore, it perpetuates this way of thinking and working within the organisation and ‘fake it till you make it’ is seen as the norm for leadership development.
A Better Way – Embrace Vulnerability
Instead of seeing vulnerability as a weakness, embrace it as a strength. For a new role to be a genuine promotion – over and above a pay increase – there must be elements that are beyond your current skillset. By recognising this, you prime yourself to be a leader that learns; and leaders that learn are the ones best placed to lead today and into the future.
You are never in a stronger position that when you are first appointed to your new role, and as the saying goes, the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining. So, when you are appointed, try saying something like, “Thank you for this opportunity, but I want to flag with you a couple of areas that I know I need to start developing and there are probably some areas that are yet to show themselves, can we talk through what resources or strategies are available to me to address these as and when they come up?” Or, when a colleague comes to you with a challenge – rather than offering (poor) advice or doing the work for them – say, “I’m not sure, I haven’t thought about that. What do you think?” This simple act builds trust and gives your colleague the opportunity to learn, grow and develop.
In my work with leaders during 2020 and into 2021, the best teams have recognised that no-one knows how to lead through a global pandemic, and it has given many leaders the permission they felt they needed to embrace vulnerability and let go of the desire to ‘fake it’. My hope is this might continue post the pandemic.
Written by Dan Haesler.
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