DEFEATING IMPOSTER SYNDROME
(SEPTEMBER 24–OCTOBER 23)
Sometimes we think everything is hunky-dory and then realise it’s not. When we doubt this sense of right and wrong, it can throw everything into question. The converse is also true. We can feel up to our necks in a river of trouble, then realise the ground beneath our feet is firm enough to make it to dry land. This week’s full moon shows that an old problem has an easy answer; look closely at something you’ve avoided. The full moon has a powerful message for you. Call 1900 957 223.
When I was asked to put my hat in the ring for my first CEO position at Microsoft Australia I said, “No way! I can’t do it!”
Three things terrified me about taking on the role. One was that I didn’t want to talk to the press, which is ironic given that this story is in a magazine and REA is part-owned by a media company (News Corp Australia). Secondly, I don’t like doing presentations in public.
The third one, which was the more troubling for me, was that as a leader, you really had to inspire the people who worked for you. The thought of being responsible for inspiring 1000 people – at that stage, Microsoft was far smaller – truly terrified me. My impression of what an inspirational leader should be was this utopian ideal that doesn’t exist, and I certainly wasn’t it!
I didn’t actually admit these things terrified me. I just said they were things I didn’t have experience at and I wasn’t very good at. Deep down I was scared.
Fortunately, [then outgoing CEO] Steve Vamos had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He said, “I think you can do it.” There’s something very encouraging about somebody that has no reason to want you to fail, to have more confidence in you than you have in yourself. I had a torturous weekend of having to decide whether to put my hand up for the role, and I did. I was so lucky to be selected in the end.
Sometimes I think about what would have happened had that conversation with Steve been with a leader who was less open-minded. Someone who would have said “OK!” if I told them I didn’t think I was ready to be CEO. They likely would have gone to the other three candidates, who quite likely all would have been men, and one of them would have gotten the position.
Now I am the CEO of REA Group, a digital advertising company, and I’m determined to be a good mentor to everyone in my organisation. Far more than men, women have imposter syndrome, where we look in the mirror and question ourselves.there’s a humility that comes with being self-critical, but it can lead to self-doubt. When you’re doing things you haven’t done before, that can be quite a barrier to overcome. That’s why we need more courage.
I don’t think there’s a silver bullet on why there are more men than women in leadership roles. But I think there’s greater recognition that having diversity in leadership teams, including in the CEO, is beneficial. And that’s diversity of thinking, of age and absolutely of gender.
When there are not enough women in the ranks, in those more senior positions, then you get into this cycle. If all of the people who are making decisions are 45- to 50-year-old white men with similar experiences, they tend to hire people who are more like that.
I don’t think that’s intentional. It is because that’s who they naturally communicate with, who they share a rapport with, and they know they can work with that person.
These are all valid and rational reasons. But it does not create change. And it doesn’t get the diversity of thinking that is sorely needed.