Congratulations, Coach! Your client made it! They got that promotion! (Or won that election, maybe?). And yet… now… they seem uncertain. “I was lucky,” they tell you. They were in the right place at the right time, and it might all come tumbling down tomorrow when people discover that they are really not all that and a bag of chips. Maybe not even the bag of chips.
We’ve all heard of impostor syndrome, that “I shouldn’t be here” feeling often attributed primarily to successful women in a corporate or organizational context. Newsflash: it’s not just your client, and it’s not just women, it’s everybody. Suzanne Imes, one of the psychologists who first identified imposter syndrome, says it’s especially prevalent in people embarking on a new endeavor, promotion or job. Sound familiar? Your client is in the full grip of impostor syndrome sabotage. Whether it’s their first promotion or their tenth, these feelings can arise and take over.
To make it more complicated, there’s another component to the issue: it’s probably lonelier in the new role than where they started. Now that they have moved up, there’s a good chance they’ll feel isolated from the support of colleagues who are now subordinate to them, either directly or on the general org chart. They will likely start to feel additional pressure to perform to a new standard and to repeat the past success (fluke?) that got them here in the first place. Each new rung on the ladder can feel narrower and more slippery than the previous ones.
So, how do we as coaches support our clients in this new space? After the high-five and the celebration, where do we work with them to address this whole new level they are working to conquer?
I believe this is where we all go back to basics. This newly anointed leader has a whole cast of characters that they can reconnect with: their own Inner Leader and Allies. Inside each of us are the resources — in the Co-Active model we call them Inner Leader and Allies — to help us face the imposter, boost our self-confidence and bring forth the parts of ourselves we need to be successful and happy.
The Inner Leader and Allies will never abandon a person who gets a fancy title. Those carefully identified and intimate voices that have supported the journey this far are themselves leveling-up to meet whatever challenges lie ahead for our clients. Go ahead and do a roll-call, or revisit the visualization exercises the client first used to uncover this beautiful assembly of supporters.
Help your client get comfortable and then guide them into a place in nature where they feel safe and inspired. Let them describe their whereabouts — what they see, feel, hear and smell. Invite them to meet the special someone who appears. Is a new leader emerging? Are there underused allies that might be ready to take some time in the spotlight? Or maybe a whole new ally will appear as a result of this new space the client is occupying!
Sometimes, especially if it’s been awhile, a tweak in the language can help a client reconnect with their Inner Leader and Allies. Maybe now it’s their “Board of Directors” or their “Home Team” or their BFR (Big Fat Rolodex, and yes, I’ve heard people use all these terms). This is a great way to re-ground a client in where they are today.
Ultimately, our clients are still the naturally creative, resourceful and whole beautiful spirits they’ve been all during the journey. This is just the next stretch of road.