My friend, a high-level manager at a financial services firm, confided he felt as if he was leading a double-life. Not in a sordid, creepy way, involving drugs or scandal or cabaret performances of Liza Minnelli impersonations by night. Rather, he complained that his “work” persona and his “home” persona had grown distinctly separate over the years, and it made him sad.
I suppose it’s a common ailment among up and coming managers as they learn the game, how to play the part in order to live up to the expectations of the new role.
At least it was true for me, especially during those early clawing-my-way-up-the-corporate-ladder years. I was just being careful, though, skirting around my own immaturity. Mostly because I didn’t think my employers would be so happy if they knew the truth about me – the real, dope-head, goofball me, who mysteriously, accidentally, somehow got promoted to a management position. “What were these people thinking? How did I ever get hired at this level? What will they do if they find out how incapable I really am?” These were the self-sabotaging thoughts battering my little head while trying to do my job.
It is a well know fact that most new leaders experience what is known as the Imposter Syndrome, where high achievers worry they’ve fooled people into believing that they are more competent than they really are. Managers typically cope by covering up their insecurities either through avoiding tough questions, or pretending they know more than they do. Either way, it takes the focus off of bringing their skills and talents to the job, and more on the impression they are making.
James Hacket, CEO of the office furniture behemoth, Steelcase, talks about his own difficulty coming to grips with his leadership identity early in the job, until a fateful meeting with Bill Marriott (CEO of Marriott Hotels) turned him around.
“I had been struggling …What does a C.E.O. look like and feel like?” he says. “What’s the texture of what you’re supposed to be? And I understood from seeing Bill Marriott’s eyes that you have to be who you are.”