On a flight from Seattle to New York, my husband and I were sitting in first class. Occasionally I would look up from my reading to watch people navigate the isle to board the plane, adding the occasionally polite good morning or smile as people walked by. One passenger in particular, caught my eye and I smiled a hello greeting. She smiled back and said (loud enough for everyone around us to hear), “How did you get up here?” Referring to my first class seat. The strangers comment and my befuddled silence now had my husband’s attention. He simple looked her in the eyes and said: “She paid for it.”
I have often pondered that short and awkward moment. How did she know I felt like an impostor? Was it written all over my face that I am a “coach girl”? (And I am not talking about the brand of purse here.) Did she know that I had the urge to ask the flight attendant to sit in my seat and allow me to serve her for a while?
This “Impostor Syndrome” I describe is real for many women. It was first labeled in an academic study back in 1978 which centered around women in leadership. In the early 1970′s women were just beginning to break the glass ceiling of male dominated leadership. Reaching the corner office, meant wrestling with insecurities every leader had – do I belong, is there someone better for this job, what happens when they find out I am a fraud?
In our society women are raised to serve. Men are raised to succeed. Women lean towards nurture, encouragement, empowerment, teaching, healing, community, and development. Men lean towards providing, movement towards future goals, significance, conquest, acquisition, power, and influence. These ideas are generality and stated only to make this point – Whether nature or nurture, or whatever combination, all of these qualities are needed in leadership roles and on teams. If the gifts you bring to the executive table are not seen as valuable leadership gifts, you will feel misfit in your role.
All leaders, male and female will feel like impostors at one time or another in their leadership role. The important thing to remember is that each individual was created with a unique set of gifts, strengths, and talents that are meant to be embraced and utilized. When we, as women and men walk confidently in our purpose, accepting others for theirs, wholeness and unity will lead to the fulfillment of our goals and a better world.
Things to ponder:
How do you feel about sitting in first class or having a corner office?
When have you felt like an impostor in your leadership role?
What was the cause of your feeling of inadequacies? Fear of failure? Fear of others opinions? Gender or role designation? Trying to be who others think you should be?