There’s a narrative that CEOs are self assured, with an unwavering belief in their ability to lead their people and their business. The truth, however, can be very different. An estimated 70 per cent of people experience imposter syndrome (the feeling that you don’t belong, or don’t deserve your achievements) at some point in their career - and just because you reach the top doesn’t mean you’re immune to it.
Competent leaders are often the ones who have come to terms with the fact that no one is perfect, learned to move on from their mistakes and fundamentally understand themselves. Afterall, if you don’t appreciate yourself, it’s unlikely you’ll perform at your best or fully appreciate the abilities - and understand the mistakes - of others.
Know what has an influence on your self-esteem
"There are four things that influence our general self esteem," says Ashley Bookman, a wellbeing coach and CEO of Momentum.
These are self awareness, self acceptance, self appreciation and self discipline. At work and at home, we all have a tendency to neglect or over-focus on one of these areas.
"Over-revving can lead to burnout while underperformance drives down self esteem," explains Bookman. Instead, if you work at improving each of these elements, collectively it will boost your self esteem.
Understand yourself and the effect you have on others
Self awareness can be tricky to develop because you don’t know what you don’t know. And if you don’t know what can be grating, offensive or negative for other people, how can you fix it?
It’s important that you understand how your colleagues perceive you, and that they feel able to tell you honestly, even if that leads to some unwelcome truths.
"If you have better self awareness it makes you a better leader and leads to better relationships with you colleagues, clients and family," says Bookman.
Former Sage exec Paul Stobart says he realised he needed to change his approach to leadership after he attended a training course.
"The first half of my career as a leader I realised I had managed all the teams I had furiously, creating no small amount of havoc along the way. It came home with crushing reality that I was personally aping what I'd been experiencing my entire career and was truly wrong."
Appreciate what makes you, you
How many times do you cringe when you reflect on how you reacted to a certain situation in the past?
A lot of the time our actions are driven by the context, the pressure of a deadline, difficult events outside of work or sometimes just the fact that we have not taken a break or got enough sleep.
We have a tendency to forget this, and instead dwell on how we reacted, rather than fix why we reacted that way.
"To develop greater self acceptance you need to seperate your identity from your behaviour," says Bookman. "If you don’t truly appreciate yourself you will not perform at your best, be able to fully appreciate others; and therefore will never be able to truly lead effectively."
finnCap CEO Sam Smith concurs. When she first took over the brokerage, she felt like she had to act and dress to fit in with the "masculine" culture of the City, even though it was against her "natural instincts".
"I remember hearing an employee describe me as not easy to approach, which is not a quality I would ever associate with myself. I decided that instead of following the advice and behaviour of the other CEOs I had met, I should revert to the more inclusive, collegiate, values-driven approach that I had always believed in."
Understand you’re there through merit
When Brian Duffy became regional president at German Software giant SAP at the ripe old age of 37, he admits that he initially struggled to accept that he had a right to be in the room.
"Now I tell our interns that it shouldn’t happen. You’re here for the perspective you bring. When you’re authentic, your true self at work, that’s when there are no limits and something really special can happen."