Have you ever found yourself at a networking event or a business dinner where you were suddenly asked a question along the lines of “if you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?” I have… and I strongly dislike this question.
First, although I hide it well, I am an introvert and I despise being put on the spot at these kinds of events (I’ll probably write a post on being an undercover introvert another day). Secondly, and most importantly, I detest being asked this question because I don’t know the answer. Of course I could say something along the lines of “I’d like to have dinner with Ghandi, Barack Obama or Kamala Harris”, but honestly, would I really? If I close my eyes for a minute, I can imagine myself sitting 1-1 with Barack Obama petrified to ask a question and agonizing on what to say not to sound like an idiot… In addition, the question entails a dinner, which means there would be food involved. Eating food in front of a famous personality isn’t a fantasy of mine, to the contrary. I would be terrified to eat as I’d worry I’d be chewing too loud or have food in my mouth when it would be my turn to speak. The overall idea of having dinner with someone I admire doesn't sound fun to me, it sounds like a panic attack in the making.
When that is said, I know the question is not about having dinner, but an analogy. The point of the question is to ask me who my role models are and that is the problem, I have none. I can scratch my head as long as I want, I can’t find role models I identify with and whom I can relate to. I admire and respect great thought leaders, but role models paving the way forward for me, I don’t know any.
Where are my role models?
Where are the people I can relate to and who inspire me? A few days ago I wrote a post about being 39 years old, a director and feeling like an impostor (see post here if you have not read it). In short, this post was my attempt to present how, although I have had good success in my career, I feel like an impostor, I struggle in meetings trying to find intelligent things to say and I replay conversations to analyze if what I said was good enough. The post also attempted to present a few tactics I have collected overtime to deal and manage my impostor syndrome.
Since posting about my impostor syndrome, many colleagues, but also strangers have reached out to thank me for sharing this part of me. The outreach surprised me greatly and it seems the topic resonated with many people. In addition, many also contacted me to expand on the conversation and discuss the topic from other angles. Therefore, I have spent the last few days thinking greatly about impostor syndrome.
Although I have offered in my post a few tips and tricks to withstand the impostor syndrome, the syndrome is so wide spread that I believe it needs to be addressed in a more systematic way. In other words, we should not have to help each individual get rid of their impostor syndrome on a one-by-one case basis. Instead, we need to make changes to the system - our work environment - to enable as many people as possible to go to work without feeling like impostors. To do so, I believe we need to create a work environment, which employs and promotes different leadership styles. Having a wide diversity of leadership profiles and encouraging various ways of managing and executing would allow most of us, if not all of us, to recognize ourselves at work and find role models. I firmly believe this would help many of us diminish or maybe even get rid of our impostor syndrome. Having diverse leadership styles on display would allow us to see people in leadership positions similar to us and learn, as we watch them, that our ways are respected and accepted. Imagine if you could recognize yourself in your leaders at work. Wouldn’t this help you gain more confidence in what you do? Imagine if all of us could go to work and not feel like impostors so easily? Wouldn’t our companies benefit from more of us being real and confident at work instead of spending so much time second guessing ourselves? I, for one, am sure I’d be more productive if I spent less time thinking about what to say or spent more time being real and confident.
The work culture and work environment of today, at least the one I know, promotes and encourages performance, deliveries and strengths. I can be these things and I have proven over the years that I can perform, I can deliver and I am strong. That being said, I do so while doubting myself and while feeling like an impostor. In moments of great self-doubts, I cannot turn around and look up at role models in my field to remind myself that, like me, they are human and also face massive difficulties. I can’t, because this is a taboo and we don’t talk about it. Where are my peers and leaders who dare speak of their insecurities, their doubts and show their humanity? Why am I the only manager I know talking about this when all of us feel this way?
The leadership model in place today continues to be based on values and ways of the past. Qualities such as confidence, assertiveness, directness, decisiveness, rationalism, pragmatism, action, stability, logic, strength, drive, structure and independence continue to be viewed as the way forward. But no one is all of that. Many of us, if not all of us, have other important traits and qualities which are not valued to the same extent. And it is not just us, leaders and potential role models also have these qualities, but they simply don’t showcase them as they have not been considered part of the recipe for success. Such qualities include being expressive, intuitive, empathetic, compassionate, dependent, nurturing, grateful, receptive, sensitive, kind, friendly, creative and permissive. Although I have learned to be what is valued in the workplace such as being decisive, assertive, pragmatic, direct, rational, strong and logical, my real me is also empathetic, compassionate, nurturing, sensitive, receptive, grateful, intuitive, friendly, vulnerable and kind. When these latter traits, the ones not portrayed by the current leadership model, show up at work, I know my impostor syndrome shows up too. I start wondering if what I am doing is right and if I will be perceived the right way. Will my superiors stop seeing the potential in me as I no longer fit the mold? And therefore I ask myself, where are my role models? Where are the people in front of me paving the way to showcase that being a leader at work can encompass all human traits as there is not one way to lead but infinite ways. We need more diverse role models so that all of us in doubt can find someone to identify with and be the best of ourselves in our work environment. We need more diverse role models so we can stop feeling like impostors.