“Now that I’m a leader, I fear I’m going to be found out.”
When I first heard this during a coaching session with a seasoned executive I thought it was curious. Here I am sitting across from an accomplished business professional that is well-respected among their colleagues and yet isn’t completely secure in their role as a leader. As any coach would do, I followed this train of thought to better understand the meaning behind this fear. Over time, I began to notice a pattern; this theme is showing up in many of my executive coaching sessions.
What does it mean to be a “fraud”? Why are people feeling this way? At the heart of this dilemma is the transition from being a “doer with expertise” to a “leader with vision”. This transition is never clear. “Now that I’m a manager/leader what exactly do I do and how am I evaluated”. This will vary from company to company and the amount of responsibility you have within your organization. It becomes particularly pronounced as you assume leadership positions that take you farther and farther away from the day-to-day tasks.
Early in your career, much of your self-worth is tied to your individual accomplishments. You are the subject matter expert who makes their mark by getting stuff done – being the doer and delivering results. When you are in doer mode there are tangible outputs that you can point to with pride. You can leave at the end of the day feeling a sense of accomplishment and recognition for your effort.
When you transition into a leadership role the value you provide isn’t as obvious and this creates internal tension sometimes resulting in fear. Theoretically speaking, people in leadership positions play a critical role within an organization by setting a vision for their team (and communicating it), clearing obstacles to enable success, creating a healthy culture and providing on-going support to their team. Being a leader doesn’t have the same tangible results as being a doer. Ultimately, it does ladder up to greater organizational performance but it’s harder to see. It’s not uncommon for people in leadership positions to leave at the end of the day wondering, “what exactly did I do today?”
As you progress, it’s impossible to be an effective leader and doer/subject matter expert. Being a leader requires that your attention is spread across a wide variety of business issues. Leaders have to learn to operate without being the subject matter expert. It’s virtually impossible to continue to take on a greater leadership role and still be as entrenched in the day-to-day (unless you want to work non-stop which I don’t advocate). Therefore, it’s essential to reset expectations of yourself as a leader and where you add value. If you are doing the following, you are providing invaluable leadership to your team and your organization.
– Defining what success looks like for your team and sharing it broadly and consistently
– Establishing clear expectations for each person/position on your team
– Being comfortable with what you don’t know and relying on your team of subject matter experts
– Supporting your team and colleagues by assisting and guiding them in problem solving
– Asking smart questions that provoke insight and action
– Eliminating confusion by clearing obstacles and keeping the team focused on what’s important to achieving success
Effective leadership is not always practiced because it’s hard to let go of our inner doer. However, the more you lean into these leadership principles, the more value you can bring to your team and organization. Plus, you will be infinitely more satisfied with your job, your results and feel less fraudulent.