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Imposter syndrome: the curse of senior communications professionals?

I've been thinking a lot about imposter syndrome lately. Even the term itself, which is wrapped up in so many societal and systemic stereotypes and limiting structures around the world of work.


But... until we burn down the patriarchy (it's coming don't worry!) it's as good a term as any to start exploring these very real feelings (wherever they stem from) of self-doubt and lack that tend to crop up for many of us during our careers in communications.


Part of the reason I've been thinking about it so much is that it comes up in many of the leadership coaching sessions I run with senior communications professionals. It's a common theme and you can see why when we start to break down some of the misconceptions and lazy stereotypes we are fed about our choice of career. (I've also just launched a new online masterclass to help you overcome imposter feelings and you can access it here)


Communications is easy (no it's not!)


Stop me if you've heard this - or a variation of this - during your comms career:


"Anyone can do communications"


"Communications is a nice to have, not a business must have"


"Communications doesn't need a board level position"


We're fed these lazy lines so often aren't we? And they are lazy, because we know that when done correctly, communications is a strategic asset to any organisation and becomes a business enabler - a critical must have. But sometimes, we either don't push back hard enough with the facts, making a visceral case for our place as senior leaders, or, we allow these lazy thoughts and stereotypes to penetrate our sense of professional self-worth.


People pleasing and its links with imposter syndrome


It's often said that communications people are people pleasers. And it's true - we are usually hard wired to want to be helpful and well thought of within the business.


BUT.


Being helpful isn't the same as adding real value. (Read that again, it's so important). And people pleasing, ironically, often means pleasing no-one, not least yourself.


And people pleasing can also lead to those feelings of imposterism (I know that's not a word, but I like it!), as it means we aren't leaning fully into our unique skills, strengths and value as senior communications professionals. So our performance may suffer as a result. Therefore, we're more prone to feelings of not being good enough, being a fraud, or being "found out".

It's a vicious cycle that we need to stop.


Smashing a common myth about imposter syndrome


Did you know most people with imposter syndrome are actually the highly competent ones?

The committed professionals?


It's true.


Turns out that we can be most affected by imposter syndrome when we are actually talented and good at our jobs. Makes sense doesn't it? That we are more prone to self-reflection (and therefore, self-flagellation!) if we are committed, dedicated and high achieving in our roles. It's the ones without the self-reflection gene you want to watch out for!


But whilst self-reflection is an incredibly valuable professional strength, like anything, turn up it way past 11 on the dial and it can get twisted, and keep us trapped in a story that we believe, but just isn't true when we consider the facts.


Consider the evidence m'lud


Turns out facts and evidence are incredibly helpful allies in the fight against imposter syndrome.


This is what I tell all my coaching clients who are suffering with it and it's a core tenet of my new masterclass:


"Let go of the assumptions (yours and the ones you assume of other people) and focus instead on the evidence and the facts of your career. These can't be disputed and aren't open to interpretation. So they are your starting point to shift your mindset and take practical steps to overcome these feelings."


Mindset matters


Like it or not, your mindset dictates so much of what you can control in your career. And as a communications professional, you may need to do more work to shift yours into a place where you a) feel worthy of your leadership position b) feel confident in articulating your value to others and c) take your place around that leadership table.


When it comes to imposter syndrome, there are several mindset shifts that I think are helpful, including:

  • The importance of a growth mindset (which we all have as babies and sadly can grow out of) vs a fixed one

  • The role our personal values play in helping us navigate our careers and confidence in our decision making

  • An acceptance of the events (both good and bad) that have shaped our lives and accepting the learning and insights from each one


There are also practical steps you can take too. I talk a lot about the power of a STOP moment in my new masterclass, as it's something I still use to this day when the mind monkeys threaten to derail my journey.


Taking steps to address those feelings of imposter syndrome in communications


Here's what I want you to remember as you consider the role that imposter syndrome may be playing in your communications career at the moment:

  • What can you learn from it? Can it be instructional in some way?

  • Is it keeping you stuck and small in your career? And how willing are you to let that continue happening?

  • How motivated are you to make a change and a shift - so that you feel confident in your value as a senior communications professional and can also articulate that value to others?

Let me know if this article has helped you process and consider the role that imposter syndrome may be playing for you in your comms career. As you know by now, I'm here as a coach and an ally to support this fantastic (and valuable!) profession - I believe we have so much to offer as strong, effective and authentic communications leaders.


Louise Thompson, leadership and careers coach, shows you how to overcome imposter syndrome in your career as a communications professional with her new online masterclass
Louise Thompson, leadership and careers coach

And if you're ready, you can take my new masterclass, or schedule a free call to find out more about the one-to-one coaching I offer.

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