Aristotle Onassis is reported to have said, “To be successful you have to act big, think big, and talk big. Appearances count: get a sun lamp to keep you looking as though you have just come back from somewhere expensive; maintain an elegant address even if you have to live in the attic.”

If we look to the advice of the frothier end of self-help and personal development guidance, we’d find admonishments to ‘think positively to create life-changing events’ (The Secret, Rhonda Byrne, 19 million copies sold to date)

Most of us aren’t so shallow, nor do we have such weak egos, to follow the words of the same man who said “If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning.” The problem conversely for most MDs and CEOs is that they always feel like they’re faking it ‘til they make it, even though most people think they’ve already made it.

In 1978 clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes introduced the concept of Impostor Syndrome to describe high achieving individuals who suffer a continual fear of being found out. They are unable to accept or own their own successes, instead attributing them to external factors such as luck, timing or the hard work they put in (ironically often to hide their ‘fraud’).

Personally I don’t know many leaders who don’t suffer from Impostor Syndrome (myself included) regarding some major aspect of their success. I’d actually go so far as to say I think that feeling like this is part of the reason for our relative high achievement.

Let me explain:

As mentioned, when you don’t rate your abilities or feel you are successful you try harder. You work harder and – the intelligent – apply critical thinking to work smarter. Like the studies that show the greater long term success of children praised for working hard rather than for being clever, when we do allow ourselves a moment of pride for a job well done we attribute it to the hard work we put it. To ‘put it in’ means it is under our control and therefore is a tool we can bring to bear again, rather than some theoretical concept of a ‘skill’.

Lack of arrogance and genuine modesty do more to attract support and a strong team around you than some cosmic law of attraction. People want to work with people who don’t strut around acting big and talking big.

Acting ‘as-if’ is a useful methodology for anyone, but especially leaders to short-cut or hack a new situation prior to coming out of the other side able to tick something off as an experience. Why especially leaders?

Exacerbating our paranoia are the tens, hundreds or thousands of people relying on us every day to know what we’re doing. Often we don’t, but it doesn’t help everyone to be honest about that.

Finally, I’m not aware of evolution stopping for any species. I’d rather be continually trying to learn and get better – regardless of what drives this behaviour – than self-satisfied and slowly atrophying towards senility.

Anyway, enough of this, let me get back to that project I feel inadequate about.....

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