Executives fight 'Common Imposter Syndrome'

Leadership training can help overcome deep-seated obstacles to success, writes Rob Stock.

Intensive one-on-one executive development programmes require investments of $10,000- $50,000.

Intensive one-on-one executive development programmes require investments of $10,000- $50,000.

Executives may appear to be effortless leaders, born to the task.

But many have honed their leadership abilities through investing in "leadership development" training.

And the reasons they do it may surprise you.

Loretta Brown, leadership expert from the New Zealand Coaching and Mentoring Centre.

Loretta Brown, leadership expert from the New Zealand Coaching and Mentoring Centre.

Loretta Brown, an executive coach from the New Zealand Coaching and Mentoring Centre takes executives through 6-18 month "journeys" involving periodic one-on-one sessions.

The executives she works with aren't in need of formal skills. They've reached a level of seniority where those are a given.

What they are seeking is to overcome the things about themselves that are holding them back- the executive "derailers".

Sometimes they come with a deep sense of what is known as "common imposter syndrome" where they feel like imposters masquerading as leaders.

Others realise their behaviour is butting up against what is acceptable, and are seeking to become the men and women their organisation needs them to be.

For some the urge to develop is driven from a deep need for meaning.

"Leaders are no longer willing to just do the job for the monetary compensation," Brown said. "They want to feel they are being true to their values and they are prepared to make a stand on things."

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Brown said executive leadership development was a deeply personal process. The line between personal and professional development was blurred.

"Leadership development is personal development," Brown said.

Leadership roles can also be lonely, exposed and frightening, and require an extraordinary level of personal and professional togetherness to prevent failure, or burn-out.

Brown said: "To survive leaders need to have every part of their lives in order; Health, nutrition, quality  family support, childcare support, household support, elder care, relaxation and exercise. But the biggest factor in maintaining resilience need to know their personal triggers and their boiling points. These triggers are deeply rooted in their personal histories and experiences."

Brown says leaders who aren't coping may seek to mute the pain through destructive behaviours, including extra-marital affairs.

Her offices are not a confessional, but she admits she hears a thing or two as the executives she coaches know everything they say is in strict confidence.

Organisations also may simply not be large enough for senior people to find the support they need. "Senior people are often in isolated and stressful roles. They can become the meat in the sandwich between governance and operations. Their role makes it difficult to get direct support from peers inside their organisation. Spouses and friends are not always skilled or neutral enough to adequately assist," Brown said.

The price of one-to-one executive development journeys can be high.

"For the kind of investment for an annual partnership we are talking around $10,000 for an executive," said Brown.

It can be more. "To effectively develop a senior leader the investment is $10,000 to $50,000 minimum," she said.

While that's not small change to anyone, it is a relatively small investment if it results in a more effective partner, chief executive or chief financial officer.
"Happy people are more productive," Brown said. "​Focused, self aware and strategic people build healthy cultures​ as well as achieving greater commercial success."

And companies not investing in their senior people risk losing them through frustration.

"Preventing a resignation or a derailment can save $100,000s," Brown said.

Perhaps only 10 per cent of people pay for their own courses, with employers funding the rest.

Brown says the biggest reason why individuals seek their own executive coaching privately is dissatisfaction with their organisation, though they wouldn't say so publicly.

There is another reason individuals sometimes pay for their own journey. They've been ordered to by their nearest and dearest.

 "Often spouses will insist on it because they can't go on living the way they are."


Brown said the common reasons given by executives and their organisations investing in executive development are:

  • Have more strategic influence 
  • Work better with difficult people, develop better Delegation, and more effective ways of communicating, 
  • Survive the common "imposter syndrome" and avoid executive "derailers"
  • Lead through times of intense change and crisis
  • Learn how to powerfully lead teams and build effective cultures
  • Feel less stressed. Manage diverse demands and get more out of time and effort.
  • Build resilience and thrive under pressure 
  • Prepare for next career move, or get ready for a promotion.
  • Find more meaning and direction in work and leadership.

 - Stuff

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