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Bad Manager or Managerial Impostor Syndrome

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Managerial Impostor Syndrome


In 2017 I wrote a blog post about experiencing and tackling impostor syndrome. It is a common affliction working professionals go through from time to time. Yet I hear and read very little about Managerial Impostor Syndrome. I know this name is sucky, but I have yet to find a better way to express this new level of doubt. If you have a better name for it, please share in the comments below!

So in the last 36 months of my career, I held the responsibilities of creating and managing a new community, along with a knowledge base, and launching a social customer care program in a company that did not believe social media was a thing. Soon after I took over our social media marketing and advertising strategy and execution. Now, I am building out a team that is acting as a full fledged corporate social media agency supporting 4 brands and 6 channel marketing teams.  Needless to say, I am grateful for my list of responsibilities to have slimmed down to only social media related responsibilities as of February this year. BUT…

A Team of Rockstars

To pull off all that growth, all those responsibilities and cumulative successes, I had to build a team of rockstars. You would never expect anyone to complain about hiring excellent employees, who are reliable and innovative. And then you met me! 

All joking aside, I am not here to complain about how amazing my team is. But as I grew with my team, I realized new internal conflicts. Now don’t misunderstand, these are not conflicts within the team, these are conflicts within me. I found a new level of impostor syndrome. It seems, this is not that uncommon an experience, but is much less talked about. A recent Globe and Mail article (Canadian Newspaper) confirmed that close to ⅓ of all managers experience “downward envy” at one point or another in their careers. So let’s bust this taboo wide open.

Being Outshone

As my team impresses teams and managers project after project, as the kudos kept flying in for them, I started to feel diminished. I also started to question myself. If I have all these rock stars on the team, and they are doing all the work, what am I contributing? How did I get all those kudos before, and now I get none? Why are we writing and submitting award applications for work that my team has done, but not me? Where is my impact on the company now?

All these questions were really hard to face. Feeling abandoned and outshone is never something you want to admit to. It feels self-important and whiny. Yet here I was, week after week approving all the commendations and boosting the team’s profile by sharing internal and external milestones, but claiming none of the successes. 

Letting Go and Delegating

Another thing that I found was extremely hard to let go of, was everyday tasks. In the last 36 months I created processes and supporting networks. Building bridges and connections that facilitated efficiencies and initial successes. It was hard to adjust to having a full team of capable people. Simply put, it was hard to delegate, and still own something that was “mine” to be successful in.  

Just because you know how to do something, it does not mean you should forever be doing it.  There are two reasons why I strongly believe in letting go.

1) you never keep learning and growing if you keep adding to your responsibilities without giving up something. Afterall there are only so many hours in a day. You can’t keep just accumulating.

2) How do you help the next generation to grow and lead if you can never give them stretch projects. There was an interesting study I recently read about in my MBA class that talked about grooming leaders. If you never make room for the next generation, how can they ever get prepared? Give them tasks that are meant for the next team leader and let them grow into that role, before they have to fully take on all the responsibilities. The way the book explained it was, create a vacuum, that the next generation can fill. 

Double Conflict

So here I was with this double conflict inside me. Trying to quieten the evil whisperings of self-aggrandizement, while also finding meaning in my current role as a manager. Ultimately it took a couple of things to bring everything back into focus. 

First, a heartfelt conversation with my own manager. I am sure he was taken aback when I outright told him how threatened I felt by my own team. Not sure people usually say that out loud. But it had to be said (at least once). No matter how paranoid that concept of usurping is in a work environment, it always helps to work through concerns with a more objective party than one-self.

Supportive Environment for Innovation

Next I had to work towards switching mind-frames. Again my boss was super helpful in this. He helped me frame our team’s successes, as exactly that. They are team successes. Each individual adds to it. Not one person can ever do everything right. 

So the fact that every member of the team is getting kudos, delivering the highest quality work, means that their leader is providing them with a supportive and clear environment. It made me realize that when I became a Director, my job was no longer to complete every single task alone. My task is now to help my team achieve their tasks 100% of the time. Getting rid of road-blocks, complications and to counsel in times of doubt. I am that devil’s advocate in the room, I will ensure there are no complications unaccounted for. If they win, I win. Because I made sure they avoided every single deterrent. 

Lifelong Learning

And while I am focusing on those next leaders, I am also tinkering away with the handful of non-managerial tasks still on my to-do list. 

It’s time that I redefine my own adventures and growth opportunities as a manager and as a director. It’s time to put on those introspective glasses and create my own growth path, so I don’t get surprised next time my team is catching up with me. If you keep moving forward and grow, nothing and no one will ever make you feel threatened. 

So when earlier this year our team got recognized by PR Daily for the best Social Community Engagement Strategy of 2019, the team got to celebrate together. We are all winners, because we did it together.