Delegation & Imposter Syndrome: How insecurities can create a vicious cycle of overwhelm… - ZM Coach

For people with Imposter Syndrome, delegation isn’t just challenging. It can feel nearly impossible. If you’re feeling insecure, how can you possibly set a direction for other people? When your own thoughts are filled with your inadequacy, how can you possibly hold others accountable? You can’t. That’s why any effort to do more delegating needs to start by building up your confidence and identity as a leader – your internal executive presence.

Every day I talk to smart professionals, who despite their experience and talents find it difficult to delegate effectively. They tell me things like:

  1. I don’t have time to hand things off. It’s faster and easier if I do it myself.
  2. My team is already really busy. I don’t want to overwhelm them with even more.
  3. I’m not really sure what I want from this project, so I’m holding onto it until I figure that out.

Meanwhile, they end up completely overwhelmed, with way too much on their plates – more than they can possibly get to.

The hypothesis I want to share with you today is that those aren’t really the reasons they aren’t delegating. Sure, it’s sometimes faster and easier to handle something yourself than to hand it off. And of course, you want to keep an eye on the workload you’re giving your team. But chances are those aren’t the real problem.

The real problem is a serious case of Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is a condition in which otherwise successful people second guess their own capabilities and accomplishments. Despite evidence of past success, someone with Imposter Syndrome feels self-conscious and insecure. They perpetually worry about being “found out” as less capable than people perceive them to be.

Imposter Syndrome is extremely common among people who have been recently promoted. New roles bring so much to learn, so many new challenges, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious. You start to question whether you’re ready for this new level of responsibility. You wonder if perhaps the promotion was a mistake – and you really worry if your boss and the people around you think it was.

The feelings of not being good enough are a distraction. They infect your willingness to take risks, and they threaten your confidence – even with things you’re already comfortable doing. Bottom line: It keeps you stuck, small, and scared to take next steps.

All of this makes it nearly impossible to take up leadership on your team. If you’re feeling insecure, how can you possibly set a direction for other people? When your own thoughts are filled with your inadequacy, how can you possibly hold others accountable?

You can’t.

And that’s where Imposter Syndrome gets in the way of delegating. So that story that “I don’t have time to hand things off. It’s faster and easier if I do it myself.” Might really mean: “I’m afraid I won’t be able to hand it off well enough to get the outcome I want.” Or “I’m afraid that the person I’m delegating to will see that I don’t really know what I’m talking about, so it will be easier if I muddle through it on my own.”

The fact your team is already really busy, and you don’t want to overwhelm them even more, may also stem from Imposter Syndrome. When you’re feeling insecure and unworthy, setting priorities can be a real challenge. You can feel paralyzed by even simple decisions – afraid that you’re making the wrong choice. From that place, there’s no hope of tackling the strategic questions of what to say “no” to. And no way would you feel comfortable pushing back on a request from your boss.

The worst part is how this can all lead to a really vicious cycle. The more you avoid saying no and handing off work, the more overloaded you are, and the more overloaded you are, the less likely it is that you’ll be successful.  With each missed deadline, or incomplete project, you end up feeling more and more unworthy, not enough, like a failure or a fraud. Imposter Syndrome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Getting out of this situation isn’t impossible, but it does require some work. You can’t shift out of this pattern simply by reading a few articles on delegation.  You have to get to the heart of the Imposter Syndrome, and undo the underlying stories and insecurities that are holding you back.

That’s exactly what I coach my clients through. So they build a solid internal executive presence, an unshakable identity for themselves as the leaders they’re meant to be. And then on top of that foundation, we dig into delegation skills, and how to create accountability and give feedback and work in partnership.  But it starts with putting in a solid foundation first, so that the rest builds on that authentic executive presence.

If you find yourself facing the double-whammy of difficulty delegating and Imposter Syndrome, let’s talk.  I have a proven approach that can help you tackle both of these simultaneously, so that you can get out of overwhelm and anxiety and become the leader you’re meant to be.  You can book a call with me at zmcoach.net/call.  I look forward to talking with you!

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