Turning imposter syndrome into my superpower

I hadn’t heard of imposter syndrome until we recorded a podcast with Mark Templeton, Former CEO of Citrix.  Mark openly shared his experience of becoming a CEO and how he felt he needed to have the answers for all the elements of the role, rather than feeling it was ok to ask for help.

To quickly touch on the definition of imposter syndrome, it is described as a form of ‘intellectual self-doubt’, when you don’t believe your achievements are real.  Anyone can be affected, whatever their job.

Once I understood what the term meant I was able to relate it to so many stages of my career, particularly when I turned down opportunities for promotion.  I don’t regret any of the choices I have made as the path I took led me to the very fortunate position of where I am now with the Amplified Group, but more on that later!

In conversations with clients over the last few months, imposter syndrome has come up frequently.  Because of this I’d like to share my experience and my ‘Aha’ moment that has enabled me not to overcome imposter syndrome, but to take advantage of it.

My first real recollection of experiencing imposter syndrome was during a conversation with Stefan Sjöström who, at the time, was VP of Citrix EMEA. Stefan told me the Citrix Executive team had identified me as a great candidate to become the CEO’s (Mark Templeton) Chief of Staff.  This role would have put me on a fast track to becoming a VP and would mean relocating to the US.  I would shadow Mark and support him in all his meetings.  I was thirty-one, still feeling like a girl fresh out of school, who was living the dream and I couldn’t take it seriously.  Why me?  Surely there were better qualified people than me?

Quite honestly, it is also important to mention that my biological clock was ticking, and I wanted to start a family.  My daughter wasn’t born until five years after that career progression discussion.  In Cheryl Sandberg’s terms “I was stopping, before I was stopping.”

I was providing excuses for not taking the opportunities offered to me.  I understand now how imposter syndrome contributed to my self-doubt and pushed my career development in another direction.  Imposter syndrome was the underlying reason why I didn’t pursue the opportunity.

A few years later I was asked again by the Citrix Executive Team to present at a Citrix analyst day in San Francisco.  This time I plucked up the courage, but boy, did I feel out of my depth.  My job was to present in the innovation section on a product I was responsible for.  I attended with the exec team.  I was the only female and the only person under 35 – a total imposter!  I remember the conversation with Mark.  He told me I was a storyteller, and that I was the right person for the job.  So, with my knees quaking, I presented to the analysts about the power of simplicity.  I still remember it now, I used the example of the power of TIVO which was fairly new then in the US against the complexity of recording videos and setting timers.

I survived to tell the tale, not realising I was using the superpower Imposter Syndrome.  Adam Grant, in his new book “Think Again”, dedicates the whole of the second chapter to the power of imposter syndrome.  Adam talks about how those who experience imposter syndrome have the advantage of not having an ego.  This means they always go the extra mile, they try their hardest, they think outside the box, and have nothing to lose – especially if they find their inner strength and learn how to be brave.

I used to have to wear a neck scarf when I presented because I would come out in a nervous rash.  I can still sense the feeling of the rash creeping up as I recount this story.  Feeling vulnerable, standing in front of people and hoping I can get my words out took me back to being thirteen at school.  The girls along the third line of desks all laughing at me while I presented my project on horses.  I remember them laughing at my kneecaps going up and down in sheer terror of standing at the front of the class.

Feeling safe to make mistakes

Mistakes

Years later, because I felt so safe to make mistakes and be myself within my work setting (we now know this as psychological safety), I was able to overcome my fears of presenting even to the point of loving it.  I’ve stood on stage at Wembley Stadium in front of thousands of people.  The bigger the audience the easier it is as they don’t ask difficult questions!  Providing I know my content inside out and back to front, and I have a story to tell that is relatable, I don’t have to pluck up quite so much inner strength.  It has taken practice – lots and lots of it.  I am still my own worst critic, analysing how it has gone, how it was received and what I could do better.  You could call it just having a growth mindset, but I now realise having imposter syndrome helped me go the extra mile and do a better job, just as me and as an individual contributor.

But there is so much more to this story, and it is more than plucking up courage and going the extra mile, it is about finding the power of teamwork.

I had been at VMware about a year when my manager had a conversation with me about successor planning.  He wanted to promote me to Senior Director with the next step moving into his role, when he left, as VP of VMware’s Partner Organisation.  Again, I turned it down.  This time I looked at all the different elements of his job: OEM, Alliances, Cloud, VMware’s General Business, and thought I didn’t have the experience or the knowledge to do his job.  I politely said, “Thank you, but no thank you” and carried on my role of integrating VMWare’s new products and solutions into the EMEA Go to Market.

My Aha Moment!

Aha Moment

It wasn’t until we recorded the podcast with Mark Templeton that the penny finally dropped.  I didn’t need to be an expert in OEM, Alliances and all the other areas – I just needed to lead a talented team who are experts in their areas, and to provide the environment for them to flourish.  Yes, this was my ‘Aha’ moment.  The way to overcome imposter syndrome is through the power of teaming.

We do not need to be an expert in everything.  We need to be able to build a team.  Be it a direct team or a virtual one.  On the podcast “Kind girls can get the corner office”, Rebecca Fox from the Chartered Institute of Project Management, talks about the importance of building a network of supporters.  This is the same concept.

In addition to my work at the Amplified Group, I am also the Safeguarding Governor at both my children’s schools.  I have been the Safeguarding Governor at the primary school for about four years. When Giles Escott, the Chair of Governors, who I have the utmost respect for, called me to ask if I would consider being the next Chair.  My immediate response was “No, I am nowhere near as good as you.”  However, I took a big breath and thought of the enormous amount of talent we have in the governing body.  I thought about the conversations I have been having with the young women who I mentor about how to overcome their own imposter syndrome and took a dose of my own medicine.  I can do this … or rather “we can do this together”.

The Future

As leader of the Amplified Group, I still struggle with imposter syndrome every day.  The difference now is that I have full confidence in our ability as a team help solve our tech industry clients growing pains.  I am no longer on my own.  I surrounded myself with Amplifiers who not only have so much talent and experience but share in my passion – to make the tech industry recognise it is powered by people and that there is a learned process for how they work together effectively – we call this the Operating System for Teams.

Team Pyramid

It starts with building a foundation of trust so it is a safe place to say what we really think and be able to have the robust debate we need to get to the best outcome for the business.  Building trust starts with ourselves, then within our team and beyond.

Ultimately, a team’s ability to execute at speed is a direct result of how they work together.  To help describe it, we call it TeamX™ or TX for short.  Great TeamX™ looks and feels like this:

  • TX is when you know together you can overcome anything
  • TX is when teammates can see you’re frazzled and offer their help without hesitation
  • TX is when other people in your company want to join your team
  • TX is where you can’t imagine working anywhere else
  • TX is when you know recognition will go where it should go

So, I’m taking my imposter syndrome superpower and using it to help drive our mission forward.  I am constantly learning and questioning how we (myself and my team) can do better.  I am confident we can all overcome imposter syndrome with the power of TeamX™. 

By Vicky Reddington, Co-Founder of the Amplified Group

Further Learning

“Think Again” book by Adam Grant

“Breaking down the glass ceilings of growth” Mark Templeton the Get Amplified podcast

“Kind girls can get the corner office” with Rebecca Fox from the Chartered Institute of Project Management on the Get Amplified podcast

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