Imposter Syndrome and Other Dilemmas: Q&A with Marty

Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. So join your host Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences, and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.

Marty: Hey there, and welcome to Episode 58 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast, this week's episode: Imposter Syndrome and Other Dilemmas. We're running another Q&A. Now because we've got some great questions today and they are really meaty we've got a lot of ground to cover. So I've got Em in to ask the questions again. Hey Em, how are you doing?

Em: Hi, I'm so good! I feel like it's been ages since I've been on here, so really looking forward to this one. We've got some awesome questions lined up.

Marty: Yeah, absolutely and there's a lot of ground to cover as I said, so let's get straight into it.

Em: Okay, cool. So the first question is from Stephanie. Stephanie asks, "I'm currently going through a restructure at work. I may be about to inherit someone whom, I don't know that well, but I hear from many sources, it's a difficult resource who, quite frankly, pisses off both her internal and external stakeholders. Let's call her a five out of 10. I'm very adept at replacing under performers and I understand well that I need top talent around me. The issue is that this person is well regarded by my new boss and doesn't seem to see this person's fault. I'm concerned that I may end up dipping down or not working at the right level to compensate and I'll not be as forceful as usual in exiting a poor performer because she is very well liked by my new boss. Any suggestions on how to address this?”

Marty: Yeah, that's an excellent question from Stephanie and I get this quite frequently from clients who talk about the the dynamics of their boss getting involved with the people at the level below them. So first a little bit of a spiel about working at level. Every leader has a tendency to want to dip down to the level or two levels below them. And the reason for that is because they feel as though they have more control. And so for most leaders there's a natural tendency to do this. Now we know how debilitating that can be. So that's the thing that you really want to avoid, and there's a particular reason why you want to particularly avoided in this case. So a couple of things. The first thing is, don't assume that your boss doesn't know what the performer is like. So for example, I had an executive at CS Energy who was there when I got there, I made the assumption that that person was the choice of the board, that the board thought he was performing particularly well and that he had their full support.

Now as it turns out, I observed the performance over time and found the performance was not as good as it should have been. And I had this dilemma about do I move him on because I know the board really backs this guy? But in the end I made the move, and to my surprise, the board said, "Yeah, we were sort of wondering about him, you know, really good guy. But we weren't really sure whether he was hitting the mark." So I'd made an assumption about what the board thought that was actually incorrect. So that's the first thing. Don't always assume that your boss thinks what you think the boss thinks. Then the second thing is if your boss does really rate this person, you need to shine a spotlight on their under-performance or their poor behaviour. And the only way to do this is by not dipping down and holding them accountable to deliver the things they need to deliver. You've got to stay disciplined with this. So in Stephanie's case, if she decides to protect this individual, she'll remain under the radar because Stephanie will compensate for her. The only way to do it is to stand back, let them perform and judge them on their performance. Just the way you should manage anyone.

Em: I completely agree with you in terms of shining a spotlight on the person's under performance. But what happens if the boss thinks that the sun shines out of this person's ass? Could they potentially think that your good and honest performance management is actually a witch hunt instead of seeing it for what it really is?

Marty: Yeah, look, that's possible. You're never going to agree with your boss on everything, but I think the number one thing about this is managing your boss's expectations and you've got to start that dialogue pretty early and fairly gently. So for example, you talk to your boss and say, "Hey, look, you know Harriet pretty well. What are her strengths? How do you think I could get the most out of her?" So you're asking the boss for input because the boss seems to know something that you don't. So you take that on board and most of the time you'll find that bosses just giving vague impressions - seems like a good person, speaks articulately - whatever the case may be, with no real knowledge of the performance. And that's what you've got to draw out. And then of course you can ramp up as time goes on. So you can say to your boss, "Hey, I know you really rate Harriet, but I'm seeing some worrying signs. How would you like me to handle her?" And so moving the boss slowly towards the fact that you do have to manage her performance diligently and keep the standard high.

Em: Cool. So slow and steady.

Marty: Absolutely.

Em: You've spoken a few times as well about taking say 10 minutes after the one-on-ones that you have with your people to just record what's spoken about, emailing with any important action points if necessary afterwards. Does the same strategy apply here? I feel like it could be really useful.

Marty: Oh, completely. Yeah, the rules apply to this as they would to any other situation Em. So you've got to record carefully what you've actually said to the person, you for your own benefit as much as anything else. But if things do go pear shaped or you need to ramp up. And when I say ramp up, I mean put the pressure on in terms of really expectations around performance and making sure the person either steps up to the mark in an up or out sense, then you've really got to make sure that you've got good documentation behind you. So part of this is setting really clear objectives and measures. You've got to make it as easy for them as you possibly can for them to hit the performance by you're trying to set. And then you put good monitoring processes in place. So without you having to get all over the detail and micromanage them, you give them real clarity around what they have to deliver. So recording the key points from any performance conversation you have and the messages you gave to any individual is really important. Now if you've got a slippery character there who knows how to play the game and manages upwards really well, even go to the extent of sending them an email afterwards confirming your conversation and what you've asked them to do, what your expectations are and so forth.

Em: Yeah, I think it's also worth going back and listening to a Work at Level. What episode is that? Seven I think? I just think that one is really good. I know that Stephanie said that she was worried about potentially dipping down or working at the wrong level. Just going back to that one and potentially the accountability episode as well. I'll put those in the show notes they're just some really good reminders.

Now let's go onto question two. This one is from Mike via Instagram. Mike asked, he actually asked two really good questions, but we'll just tackle this one today. He said, "I'm thinking of taking on a global leadership role, which is a huge step. I'd love to hear Marty's thoughts on imposter syndrome. How do you deal with it?" And you know, I have to say, when I got this question, I was thinking about it quite a bit. I haven't actually had too much of this in my career, but I do remember a few moments where I've been sitting in a meeting and someone's said an acronym or something that I wasn't sure about, but it was assumed that I would know and I just sat there thinking, "Shit, people are going to think that I don't know what I'm talking about and that I shouldn't be in this room". That obviously wasn't the case, but those moments did knock my confidence a little. So I'm really interested to hear your thoughts on this one.

Marty: Yeah this is something I haven't really addressed in any way during the podcast series yet. I think imposter syndrome is something that hits all of us at some point in time and some more mildly than others. So I've had a very mild thought of it in the past. But I've done enough work over the years to be strong and confident enough that I am where I'm supposed to be. So I'm not sure if I actually trust these numbers entirely, but if you Google the interweb, they'll tell you that about 70% of all people, that's male and female, experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers.

So I've had times where I've sat back, particularly when I was CEO and said to myself, "Well, what do I really do? I've got really good people working for me doing most of the heavy lifting", which is actually true. And I'm thinking to myself, you know, "I meet people, I give a few directives. I make a few decisions, but what do I really do?" So it's really important to step back and think about what it is that you do to add value. And many weeks I found that I could point to decisions or directions I would give that were obviously executed by others, where I could create value equivalent to my annual salary before close of business on a Tuesday. So when you think of it in those terms, I think it's pretty easy to say, "Yeah, look, I am doing some good stuff". There's some big deals that I've led worth hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars that have created enormous value, longterm value for the organisations I've worked for. They wouldn't have happened without my relationship building and negotiation skills, but still the thoughts cross my mind occasionally. Now it became pretty easy for me to rebuff them based on the evidence of my past performance. But it's still just that nagging thing in the back of our heads that's going to come at us every so often.

So the first thing is generally imposter syndrome is pretty healthy. It's a sign that you are introspective. It's a sign that you question yourself and it's a sign that you don't believe your own bullshit, which is fantastic right, that's where we want to be as leaders. The second thing is, it's normally a result of us comparing our worst attributes to other people's best attributes. Now have a think about this. Everyone comes into work every day with their game face on. You don't see their insecurities. You don't see their doubts because most of the time you can't see them through the mask they put on to come to work. But deep down, you know, all too well what your insecurities and doubts are. And so you're comparing what you know about yourself to what you can see of other people. And it's just a completely ridiculous comparison to make.

Em: Oh, amen! The negativity that comes from comparison is so real. It definitely brings out all my biggest insecurities, if I find myself going down a comparison spiral, which doesn't happen very often, but it really does get you. So you've got to get that perspective, I suppose, around the value that you do bring and know why you are there in the first place.

Marty: Yeah, totally. And I think it was Theodore Roosevelt that said "Comparison is the thief of joy". And that's so true. So the other thing I just wanted to mention is that, look, we each have deep seated insecurities that we often don't recognise, let alone overcome. Now I'm pretty lucky because I did the work of discovery of this stuff over 20 years ago and I know what my trigger is. So my trigger, my story that I believe is "I'm not good enough". That's what I believe. That's my deep core belief. And so a lot of my career success, funnily enough, has been driven by trying to show someone, probably me, that I am actually good enough. But now that I actually understand that, that's one of my drives and one of my triggers, I can understand it intellectually, I can put it to the side and it doesn't actually drive my self belief. So, that was a bit deep, wasn't it?

Em: It was! I was going to interrupt you there and I just thought, no, that's such a really awesome vulnerable moment. I think we don't really get to see that in a lot of senior executives or you know, people who have gone to those really high levels. So thanks for sharing. I think that'll resonate with a lot of people.

Marty: Yeah, that's okay. Well I hadn't actually planned to go that deep, but there we are, right? No bullshit leadership! So here comes, solution time, right? So there are no silver bullets for this one. You've got to work out what lies beneath, what the drivers are for you. And it can be a long process. So as I just said it took me over 20 years to sort of start to get this under control and really understand what drove me. But look to the evidence of your past achievements. If you start feeling insecure about what your value is, whether you should be where you are, whether you're an impostor, think about what you've done in the past because normally that will reinforce the fact that, hey, you got your promotions for really good reason. We all have a little bag of shit we carry around.

Everyone has it. It's just that most people don't show it. So don't compare yourself and always look to grow and improve. Right? Leaders are learners and if you're listening to this podcast, you're obviously wanting to improve. So just keep that up. Just keep moving forward and satisfy yourself with the fact that you want to be better all the time and that in itself is really valuable. Finally watch out for your self talk. It's really dangerous the things that you let run through your mind constantly. So that's what informs our subconscious. It's what tells us how to think and behave. It tells us what we should believe about ourselves. So watch your self talk and make sure it's right, it's positive, it's uplifting and it's focusing you on the right things.

Em: Some really great messages there Marty, I loved that one. Alright, onto question three. Question three was asked by Pete. Pete said, "The topic that is front of mind for me at the moment, partly as a result of the annual cycle is strategic planning. The aspect that I'm most keen to hear more about is the implementation phase. So often strategic planning workshops uncover many great ideas and then six months down the track, none of them are in process as people get caught in their day to day work." We actually get this one quite a lot from our Leadership Beyond the Theory students, so it's a great one to cover on the podcast today.

Marty: Yeah, this is a great question, right? Because strategic planning and the implementation of things that come out of that is actually really, really difficult. Now, most companies have a decent high level strategy. They sort of know what they want to achieve. The strategic planning process though is where it all starts to fall apart because with that high level strategy, you've got to get it down into something you can actually go and do to make the strategy come to life. So once you get into execution, it gets worse. And I think that failures occur most often in organisations in the actual execution phase. So the first problem is not understanding the strategic drivers properly. I can't remember who this quote was from, it might've been Clay Christensen, but it goes like this: "Customers rarely buy what the company thinks it's selling". And this really highlights to us the fact that we tell ourselves our own stories about why we think we're successful, but that's not necessarily why other people are giving us the success that we're finding. Really understanding what things create the most value for our organisation is difficult, because we attribute all kinds of causes according to our unconscious biases. So for example, we might think that we had a great quarter because our strategy is working, but it might've been for factors completely outside of our control. The second problem is that we tend to try to do too much. Almost every organisation I've ever seen is like this. And there were really two reasons for this. The first is that activity tends to get a life of its own. People won't let go of stuff, and that's for all the obvious reasons, right? You think about people who are working in an organisation, "As long as I'm busy, I'm needed", and they tend to do a lot of busy work and if work is taken away, they start to get insecure about, m I still needed? Will I have enough to do? Can the organisation do without me?" So that's a really important reason why activity is hard to stop and it gets a life of its own. And it's also because of a lack of prioritisation and ranking discipline. So prioritisation and ranking discipline are so important to identify the things that you need to be working on. But we're always overly optimistic about the future and what we might achieve in the future despite evidence from the past.

Em: So true. And we say a lot in the program, don't try and take 50 things from this and implement them in your first week after finishing. Take two or three things that you really want to work on for the next little while, nail those and then choose a few other things. And that seems to work really well for our students. So I suppose it all ties back to accountability, doesn't it? And making sure that the right people are held to account for delivery.

Marty: Oh, for sure Em. And really it comes back to this, you know, lack of execution discipline. So to execute properly you need a few things, right, you need to have measurement in place. So you're measuring what you're doing so that you can track how well you're going against your plan. You need to align the incentives for your people with what you're planning to achieve. So as we know, what gets measured gets managed and what gets rewarded gets done. And then it's all about setting the right accountability so that people clearly know what they have to achieve in what timeframe. But this solution is tough, right? It has to start from the very, very top. If you're down, midway down an organisation trying to change this, you will find it virtually impossible. It has to come from the top. So you need managers right through the line to understand and drive the work program based on these principles. But as I said before, there is nothing more difficult than stopping shit in large organisations.

Em: I love that Peter Drucker quote that you say all the time about efficiency. What is it?

Marty: Yeah, he says "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently, that which should not be done at all."

Em: Yeah, that's right. I love that one.

Marty: It's good, isn't it? So I guess for us we've got to have the willingness to make conscious choices around what we do. So as you said, Em, don't try and do the 50 things. They'll all fail. Pick out the one, two, maybe three things that give you the biggest bang for buck and go after those hard and nail them and deliver the value. And if you truly believe in that value ranking process, then you know that that's going to give you the best outcome you can possibly have for your organisation. So you've got to provide extreme clarity on expectations to your people. As I said, aligning the KPIs to outcomes, not to activity, putting measures in place so that you can track by milestone how things are going and look at value delivery, not task completion. That's always a really good sign, looking at what value comes out the back end, not what tasks get ticked off. But you've got to push constantly to stop non-value-adding activities.

So ensuring accountability is a crystal clear look. I think Episode 19 is really good for this 'Execution For Results’. It's about driving accountability in your team and we'll put that downloadable again attached to this episode, Six Steps to Creating a Strong Accountability Culture, so that they're there in the show notes for you. The other things about accountability, of course, one head to pat, one ass to kick, make sure people are resourced appropriately and hold them to account with regular milestones. Now you've got to be careful as you're monitoring this stuff because there's a project management concept called 'earned value'. And this is quite important. I might even do a podcast episode on this. Basically what it says is most project managers track time and money. So our budget is on track and we're X of way through the project. But earned value actually talks about how much of the work has been completed. Are we where we were supposed to be, having spent that amount of time and money? And so you'll always get the, "I delivered my project on time and on budget". Well, sure, maybe you did, but did you deliver 100% of the functionality you intended to deliver or did you deliver 45%. And so that's a really big thing if you want to deliver value.

Em: So many good tips in there Marty I really hope that helps Pete! Alright, so that brings us to the end of Episode 58. Guys, if you haven't subscribed to or rated the podcast yet, please take a minute to do that now. It would mean a lot to us. Thanks for having me on again, Marty. Great chat.

Marty: Yeah, thanks Em, and thanks everyone for joining us. Remember at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. So please share it with your networks as this is how we reach even more leaders. I'm going to look forward to next week's episode, which is, Epic Presentation Fails: How to avoid them.

Until then I know you'll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.