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Stop Waiting For Permission to Lead

If you are a leader… you are expected to lead !! It is as simple as that. So why is it that so many leaders tell me they are not leading because they are waiting for permission to lead and waiting to be told told what to do.  

To me this sounds more like a confidence issue as you are either unsure of how to lead or your just too nervous to take on the accountability.  

Alternatively, the lack of confidence could be an internal voice/self-talk going on in your brain that you’re not good enough to be a leader and if you lead and fail, someone will find out and question why you are in this position. But as I said, this is the internal voice that no one knows about apart from you and often we call this form of anxiety – imposture syndrome. 

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ originates from research done in the late 70s focusing on women who are high achievers.  They originally used the phrase ‘imposter phenomenon’ to describe an internal state of mind where a person believes they are unintelligent, unsuccessful, and incompetent, although this is incongruent with the view others have of them.

The person often feels like they are a fraud or a fake, and they worry that at any moment, others are going to discover the ‘real’ truth about them. I personally have worked with clients who have imposture syndrome and are waiting to be invited to lead ……they feel they have been lucky, or promoted too early or even manipulated and deceived the person who hired or trusted them to take on this role 

Behavior’s that you may see in yourself that could suggest you have imposture syndrome could be things like avoidance of feedback or turning down new opportunities, procrastinating on projects or over working to a point of burnout to prove your worth.  

Quite Often, once I have highlighted to these leaders that when they were entrusted with a leadership position …. you have permission to use it and be a leader, then the alarm bells start ringing and now we can take steps to get over the mental barriers. 

Being in a leadership role means showing initiative. It’s about taking risks , thinking strategically and being ok that sometimes you will get it wrong. It is better to take risks and get things started rather than than waiting in the shadows and doing nothing.

So what can you to do to overcome imposture syndrome and start having the confidence to lead

  • Firstly, you need to Understand your position. The permission to lead has already been given , so go out and lead. Take on the identity of a leader and step fully into your role. Show initiative,think ahead and take action. It’s your time to really believe in yourself
  • Acknowledge that you’re not expected to have all the answers. Feeling like an imposter usually happens when you feel like people expect you to know more than you do. Expectations are hard to overcome, but everyone is susceptible to this feeling at some point in their life. Trying to please everyone or act like you know everything is exhausting. Be honest with yourself with what you know (and what you don’t). Speak up and share this knowledge. Admitting you don’t have all the answers doesn’t make you a fraud—it makes you human.  
  • Develop your mental toughness.  It has been well researched that those who have higher levels of mental toughness will often have higher levels of confidence in their abilities which can often be known as self-efficacy. Additionally, they are also confident in their interpersonal confidence which is a fundamental leadership skill. 
  • One evidence based technique that can help in developing your mental toughness is Focusing  on your mindset and internal voice.  Practicing positive thinking and adapting a growth mindset will fizzle out that imposture voice that is stopping you reaching your full potential. Reflect at the end of the day to raise your self-awareness and build your confidence. Imposter syndrome can be linked to feelings of self-doubt, leading to negative self-talk. When you experience success, you might find yourself lacking confidence or engaging in negative thoughts. Consider how you feel—are your thoughts empowering or disabling? If they’re the latter, choose a different script and reframe your thinking. 
  • Finally you can Ask For Help Leadership can be lonely. It’s common to feel like you have nobody to talk to. It’s not always healthy to reveal all your darkest thoughts and feelings to your team, as it can cause them to lose confidence in your leadership, however some vulnerability by asking for help can boost the trust in a relationship as you are demonstrating you are human. If you don’t want to speak to your team, you can talk to close colleagues, former colleagues, friends, family, coaches, or mentors. Asking for advice, or simply using them as a sounding board for testing your thought process can be extremely valuable. If you only rely on yourself, you are more vulnerable to negative thought patterns. Others are more likely be able to give you an impartial view of the world, especially when you’re stuck inside your own head.
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