Rowan Manning

Chief Executive Officer, John Brown Media

Have you ever felt like a fraud, and that you are going to be found out? Or feel that you got somewhere because of luck rather than skill?

I have, and I sometimes still do. In fact, 70% of us all do. And not just women either. It’s everywhere. And the bad news is that the more successful you become, the worse it can be. When I was promoted to my first Chief Exec role, a friend who is a brilliant Exec Coach & Changeologist in New York messaged me “Congratulations! If you haven’t been found out by now, you never will be!”.  A typically funny, but also rather telling one-size-fits-all joke for his client community.

I spent my teens in a rural village, whose only distinguishing feature was that it was home to the World’s Shortest Zebra Crossing. I dreamed of being a Barrister, and during Career’s Week at school, I shared my plans with a visiting Careers Counsellor. I couldn’t know at that point, that the millisecond that communicated my teacher’s almost imperceptible shake of the head to the Career counsellor, would go on to reverberate across the next ten years of my life. I was directed to join the cohort of girls that were herded into the School Hall, to be treated to a live display of a ‘clicking’ machine in action, and a speech from the local shoe-factory owner, in which he underlined that it was very possible to rise to the rank of Supervisor in the period of time between leaving school and ‘getting married and having our children’. Now, clearly there is nothing wrong with operating a clicking machine. Frankly, it looked like a highly skilled practice. But whichever way I looked at this option, it seemed rather a limiting bridge to a career in law.

Fast forward to my early twenties - life in Media in London was exciting and opportunities found me. But I struggled with a paralysing sense of fear. I felt like everyone apart from me was the real-deal, but I was an outsider, I was a sham. The results I was achieving were precarious, based on luck and too much hard work to mean I was truly any good at this. That tiny shake of my teachers head, all those years ago echoed around my consciousness.  These were my hiding years, avoiding the elements of my role and life that frightened me. I was scared to fail. My hand wasn’t just down, it was encased in concrete at the bottom of the Thames.

Today I understand that the characteristics that created these feelings, are some of the same ones that also supercharge my performance. Today, I know exactly how to keep Kim-poster locked away in the attic where she can’t trip me up any more.

So, I have some good news, and also some seriously good news for you.

Here’s the good news. If you are suffering from IS, then - congratulations! You are already the proud owner of some seriously powerful characteristics! You are very likely authentic, smart, empathetic, humble, collaborative. These are your superpowers!

Now all you need are some tools to set your superpowers free. And here’s the seriously good news – there’s nothing to it. It’s easy peasy - you just need to make a start, and what better day to make a new resolution than today?

So to give you a gentle shove in the right direction, here are the 7 most helpful things that helped me emerge from my hiding place

  1. Learn to manage your self-talk – trust me, if anyone else spoke to you the way you speak to you they’d get short-shrift. Re-frame that negative voice as a person, (giving them a silly name is very useful) and use factual evidence to counter their negativity
  2. Find your own style – I promise you, you make a much better you, than anyone else. Tonight Matthew, you don’t need to be Alan Sugar
  3. If they think you are ready, you are ready – let the people interviewing you decide if you are ready. It will either work for all of you or none of you, it’s a joint decision
  4. Put your hand up, and keep it up – when opportunities happen, don’t hesitate, just say yes. The path to confidence is practice. Read about the 5 second rule (not that one, the Mel Robbins one)
  5. If you aren’t a bit uncomfortable, you aren’t making progress -  if there is nothing about your role that you find a little scary, it could be time to find a new challenge
  6. You don’t need a plan, but you do need a goal – the only person in charge of your career, is you. This is your life. Don’t expect anyone else to do it for you
  7. Here’s my favourite one “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” this is a brilliant quote from a Canadian Ice Hockey player called Wayne Gretzky, If like my younger self – you think that by hiding, you are swerving those opportunities to fail, you really aren’t. Promise me you’ll think about that

This week at Dentsu, as part of our week-long IWD celebrations, I’m thrilled that our ONE network for Gender Equality will be focussing on education and support around managing Imposter Syndrome, which disproportionately prevents many women – and men - from fulfilling their full potential.

My boss, the unstoppable @WendyClarke, has a poster over her desk that says ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid’.

So I ask you - what would you do, if you weren’t afraid?