It is so easy to ‘sell short’ ourselves or our business; both in our own head and with others. By underplaying our strengths and capabilities, or just causing people to see us in a poorer light by the words and behaviours we use, we are often our own worst enemy.

The result? We make it unnecessarily hard for people to have enough confidence to give us opportunities to shine and choose to work with us.

Opposite ends of the spectrum

At one end of the behaviour spectrum is the ‘Fake It ‘Til You Make It’ brigade. At the other are those that suffer from ‘Impostor Syndrome’. The former are likely to paint a rosier picture of capability than is strictly warranted. It can give others the confidence to work with them and their business. Having been given an opportunity, some step up to the mark and their business/career takes off. Some, having oversold, let themselves and their clients down. If you are taking this route, at least have a plan for how to deliver if someone say “Yes”.

More common, in my experience, is the impostor mentality which can be summarised as “I’m a Fake Even Though I’ve Made It”. It’s the reason why many highly competent people fail to go for the roles and recognition they are eminently qualified for and definitely deserve. That’s a real waste for both the individual and their organisation. What is it that holds them back?

The internal voice

I’ve worked with many hugely competent people who have proved their worth over and over again. Yet, they will say things like “I could never do that job” or “There’s no point going for it as Person A is much better equipped” or “We are too small to win that contract”. This is a classic way that an individual can create barriers to their success. Often the barriers are largely imaginary, but the mindset makes them all too real. A change of mindset and language is needed.

What have you achieved?

The concern expressed regularly by those suffering from impostor syndrome is that they could “get found out” at any time. They have a tendency to say things like “I’m just a ….” or “All I do is ….”. They look inward at their role and the activities they perform. It is only when someone helps them to describe what they have achieved (the outcomes) by their actions, that they start to realise the impact they have had. I’ve been guilty of this myself. My younger self would look at those around me and see people who looked confident in their roles, seeming to speak with ease to the people that mattered and, in my eyes, achieving great things. Whilst I was doing well, I never realised how much impact I was making nor, as I discovered later, that people saw me as confident and self assured. I certainly didn’t feel that way.

A different type of comparison and assessment

Two things helped me to break out of this restrictive mindset;

  1. Adopting the internal mantra – “If they can do it, so can I.” – and this is not talking about role models. Quite the opposite in fact. What I realised is that people who are not superstars get promoted and take on significant roles. Whenever I felt that I might not be good enough to go for something, I’d look around and most of the time I’d see someone doing a similar role etc who was little different to myself. This gave me the confidence to go for things because I’d realised that “if they could do it, so could I”.
  1. Starting to keep a list of things I’d achieved, both large and small. It is amazing how satisfying and uplifting it can be to see the fruits of one’s labour and experience expressed in terms of impact instead of just a list of actions/responsibilities. Make sure that this achievement list is explicit and honest, so you can share with confidence when needed.

Young companies need the same mindset makeover

I’ve worked with early stage businesses that have had great products or services but didn’t have a significant flagship client. To achieve a breakthrough contract that changed the perception of the business, they needed to speak to senior people who were capable of making decisions outside the norm. They needed to show their own confidence in their product and business. Simple things like describing the business as Specialist rather than Small made a big difference in getting in front of the right audience, the subsequent perception created and the levels of success achieved

Role models

Of course it is good to have role models. They can show us the art of the possible and give us something to aim for. The downside is that their achievements can often feel so far ahead of what we think we might be capable of, that it can be off-putting. That’s where we need to look at people with capability/experience similar to ur own, making a go of it at the next level or two. If we see that, even if we lack confidence, we know it is possible for us to do the same.

Success is rarely easy or comfortable to achieve. Having the confidence to put yourself in uncomfortable situations gives the experience to follow in the footsteps of your role model.

Confidence is built one achievement at a time. If you have clarity on the impact you’ve had and look at those closer to you who are already on the journey you want to make, you’ll see plenty of examples where you can say “If they can do it, so can I”.

Carole Gillespie, Founder: People buy from People