By: Rebecca Knight
Sometimes you feel like you’re in over your head. Perhaps you got a big promotion or are leading a new, high-profile initiative but you worry that you don’t have the right skills or experience to succeed. Are there strategies you can use to jolt your confidence? How do you “fake it ‘til you make it”? And are there risks to that approach?
Feeling anxious about a new professional challenge is natural. In fact, imposter syndrome— the creeping fear that others will discover you aren’t as smart, capable, or creative as they think you are — is a lot more common than you might guess. Most people feel like a fraud from time to time, and “many of us never completely shed those fears — we work them out as they come,” says Amy J.C. Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. The key to doing that, she says, is “to trick yourself out of the state of self-doubt.” Faking it till you make it is not about pretending to have skills you don’t, she adds. It’s “about pretending to yourself that you’re confident” so you can work hard and get the job done. So, for starters, “let up [on] the self-flagellation.” Often, the root of the insecurity involves your personal leadership style, says Herminis Ibarra, a professor at INSEAD and the author of Act like a Leader, Think Like a Leader. Your task is to figure out “how you come across as credible, how you convey your competency to others, and how you communicate your ideas in an authentic way.” Here are some ways to go about it.
- Frame it as an opportunity
The more you focus on what’s scary about the new team you’re leading or the project you’re steering, the more intimidated you’ll feel. Instead, “frame the challenge not as a threat but as an opportunity to do something new and different, says Cuddy. “Don’t think, ‘Oh no, I feel anxious.’ Think, ‘This is exciting.’ That makes it easier to get in there and engage.” Remind yourself that the professional challenge you’ve been asked to take on is probably “not categorically different” from what you’ve done before. “It’s just a little [So] you need to scale up.”
- Think incrementally
If you approach a new position or responsibility with the goal of “killing it right off the bat, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” says Cuddy. Rather than setting a grandiose objective, she suggests making “small, incremental improvements” in your performance. Think of these steps as “the opposite of a New Year’s resolution,” she says. For instance, you might say to yourself, “In today’s meeting, I’m going to make sure everyone on the team feels heard.” Or, “At this networking session, I am going to make two new connections.” A growing body of research supports this approach, notes Ibarra. “Goals are a moving target,” she says, requiring constant setting and resetting.
- Watch and learn
When you’re developing your personal management style, you should observe how others lead, according to Ibarra. One role model will not suffice; “you need a panoply of them,” she says. “It’s helpful to be exposed to many different styles.” Watch how these people influence others, use humor, and come across as charismatic and self-assured. Also take note of their verbal tactics — when they use silence, how they pose questions, and how they intervene. “Pay attention and then try to emulate [what they’re doing],” she says. “You can borrow bits and pieces and tailor them to you.”
- Be bold in your body language
One surefire way to come across as self-confident when you’re feeling insecure is to use “body language that makes you feel bold and victorious,” says Cuddy. Your aim is to make “yourself feel more powerful psychologically.” Take long strides. Sit up straight. Walk with your chest held high. And don’t slouch. When you “carry yourself in a way that conveys power, poise, and healthy pride,” you feel more self-assured and others perceive you that way. “You feel less guarded, more optimistic, more focused on goals, and more likely to take a stand,” she says.
- Heed red flags
If you’re so overwhelmed that every day nearly brings on a panic attack, faking it may be inadvisable. The goal is to “step outside of your comfort zone,” Ibarra says, not to set yourself up for failure or a breakdown. Cuddy agrees: “When you are in serious fight-or-flight mode, it’s very hard to get yourself out of it; it’s like a death spiral.” So if you have deep-seated concerns that the challenge you’re being presented with is too much too soon, or is unrealistic given the time frame and resources at your disposal, it’s important to speak up.
Source: Harvard Business Review