If you’ve just been promoted, or if you’re facing a challenging new assignment, it’s common to feel a twinge of self-doubt. But walking into a presentation or leading your first staff meeting with your head hung low is hardly the impression you want to create. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is the advice often extolled on those awash in self-doubt. Psychologist and executive coach Joanne Irving says faking it doesn’t mean pretending to be what you want to be, but changing your mind-set so you exude the confidence and competence that will help you become who you want to be.
“The biggest mistake people make when trying to fake it is pretending they know everything,” says Irving. Being a know-it-all is hardly going to garner you the respect of others around you and is more likely to cause you to appear a “fake” very quickly, as people will soon discover you really don’t know everything. “The bravado of pretending you know everything reveals you to be more of a novice,” says Irving.
Paradoxically, asking questions can exude more competence. “The less you pretend to know, the more you appear to be a confident leader,” says Irving. Great leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers. Instead, they surround themselves with people who know more than they do. Ask questions that demonstrate a genuine interest, clarify your thinking, and stimulate conversation about finding new and novel solutions. Being willing to ask these types of questions will give others more confidence in your ability to be a great leader.
If you’ve received a promotion but feel you aren’t worthy of your success, you are likely suffering from imposter syndrome. Irving says you can defeat this feeling by reminding yourself that you aren’t supposed to know everything. “Part of impostor syndrome is buying into the irrational belief that you’re supposed to know everything because you’ve been given a new opportunity,” says Irving. Understanding that you have a lot to learn and you are in the position you’re in because you have the ability to learn and grow can help you to feel, and exude, more confidence.
If you’re plagued by thoughts of, “I can’t do this,” “I’m not ready for this,” “I’m not good enough,” try some mindfulness exercises. Rather than pushing the thought away, recognize it, then tell yourself the thought doesn’t have any validity. “We relate to our thoughts and feelings as if they’re a reflection of reality versus just a production of our mind,” says Irving. Relabeling negative thoughts can also be helpful. If you’re feeling anxious before a meeting, for example, you may tell yourself it’s because you’re scared of appearing not worthy of your new role. Telling yourself instead that you’re anxious because you’re excited will completely change the way you act in the meeting.