In this episode, Graham and Jewel discuss Impostor Syndrome - What are the common causes, how does it manifest itself and how can you overcome it?
Jewel Edward Love Jr, MA
Founder & Executive Coach
Jewel Edward Love Jr, MA is a speaker and author focusing on teaching audiences how to find their unique zone of genius, executive presence, and professional mission to advance in their careers. After growing up in a bi-racial household and a multi-ethnic region of America, Jewel chose to focus his career on psychotherapy and helping others to unlock their passions, ultimately culminating in Jewel becoming a founder of Black Executive Men, a leader in providing paid executive coaching for impact-driven Black men who are looking to improve their performance, make important decisions, and strategically position themselves to take advantage of their greatest professional opportunities.
This conversation is wider reaching and Jewel's insights into impostor syndrome are a must-listen for every business leader...
Graham: Our subject this week is impostor syndrome and I'm going to be joined by Jewel Edward Love Junior who is coming all the way from Guadalajara in Mexico. Jewel has a business based in Oakland, California and is a psychotherapist, a public speaker, an author, and an executive coach. Jewel, welcome to The Coaching Conversation. Please tell us a bit more about yourself.
Jewel: Well, thank you so much for having me here today. I am looking forward to this conversation. So, a bit about myself... I'm originally from Oakland, California and that's where my business is today. I'm biracial. So my father's African-American and my mother's Scottish-Canadian. They met in the San Francisco Bay area and had me and my twin sister and I grew up alongside my father, really under his wing. He's a businessman and entrepreneur, and he had nightclubs that he would operate. I was working with him from a very young age, I mean 6, 7, 8 years old, I started to learn about money and marketing, operations, some hr - it was a smaller business operation and all of his businesses were in the black community, they were specifically for black clients or club goers if you will.
There was always an element of black community uplift involved philosophically in his businesses. So that just became very normalised for me as a kid. I always knew that I'd have a business in the black community when I grew up. I just didn't know what. So, in my twenties, even though I was born and raised in a Buddhist community, both by my mom and my dad, I had friends that were of different religious backgrounds and noticed that they seemed to be pretty happy. They didn't need to practice the Buddhism that we practised in order to really be happy in life. So, I actually left my Buddhist roots behind and started studying different religions from around the world, and forms of spirituality as well.
Ultimately, I stumbled upon psychotherapy which was so powerful for me because I wasn't in this context being asked or urged - it wasn't even part of the belief system, if you will, to believe in an external power on which to mirror my life in some ways, or many ways, after that deity. We could just go back to Buddha and the different practices that Buddha used to obtain enlightenment. It was really about going in and unlocking one's own story from within one's own strengths, if you will, one's own passion and learning about healing, which is something I wasn't particularly aware of on a psychological level, and that was absolutely a game changer for me. I remember in the two and a half years I was in psychotherapy that in my life, from week to week, I could just feel myself feeling better and stronger. I mean, I was even dressing better from one week to the next. I fell in love with it and it clicked for me pretty soon after I started psychotherapy that this is what I wanted to do as far as my career.
That was the beginning of my career. I went back to school, got my master's, sat for my exam, passed my first try, became a licensed psychotherapist in the state of California, and did that for about five-ish years before I then transitioned into executive coaching. And so all of this time is about seven and a half years that I've been doing this work and these sister or cousin-type industries or practices have been focused on black men in corporate America. As I shared earlier, I knew I wanted to work in the black community and specifically with black men, but I didn't know which demographic it was going to be - guys who were teens or guys that were fresh out of prison and have their own challenges from what goes on in there.
My family were blue-collar, working-class background. I didn't know about the corporate world, but I had a client that came in one day; this brother was sharp, suited and booted, a Harvard Business School graduate, working at a non-profit, was about to get married and just had all these pieces that were very admirable to me and yet was still going through life challenges, you know, just the human condition. I began working with him and immediately I said to myself "These are my guys. This is my tribe". These are the people I want, not just to be of service to, but actually learn from. There are some things I know I need from this community that I didn't get growing up. So, still part of my own healing and empowerment process.
Through that, I got what I needed as far as healing. It felt good. Then I became a leader in that space and learned a ton about corporate. I started doing workshops at Google and Microsoft and Capital One and other organisations. I got to the point where today I work with guys one-on-one doing executive coaching. I don't do therapy anymore, and I also do speaking and writing and just have a good time with it.
Graham: And podcasts, don't forget the podcasts!
Jewel: Yeah, that's a new addition. This is awesome! If you can't tell already. I like to talk.
Graham: We promised the audience that we go onto imposter syndrome today. So, imposter syndrome; how would you define that condition?
Jewel: I would actually say it's related to insecurity - of being perceived as less than or lacking in some way. I'm happy to use the business context; I believe that's where it was originally I want to say 'discovered' if you will, but maybe 'diagnosed' and it's huge there as far as how people identify, compared to a lot of other sectors in society.
Some of the things I see in my guys (clients) are feeling like they don't belong or they'll get found out for not being skilled enough in order to be where they're at, and they'll get demoted or they'll get outcast, or they'll get fired from the company altogether. So, it could probably be, although I don't think it technically is, put into more of an anxiety category of the internal experience connected to these thoughts around being an imposter in one's environment.
I think it's the sort of thing that has been around forever, but we're perhaps more adept at identifying it, describing it, and owning up to it. Call it what you will, but I think it's something that's been around as people have become more senior or have more responsibility, they found themselves asking "why me?".
Graham: What sort of behaviours, what sort of challenges do you find your clients have when you've discovered its impostor syndrome?
Jewel: The first thing is really overcompensating and showing up, trying to go over and above. Now, I don't mean just 110%, because they're confident in what they do and are confident in outcomes that they can deliver. They're trying to protect themselves and that's where it's coming from in order to shore up any perceived deficiencies or weaknesses, that they might get found out that they don't even feel like they belong there in that scenario. So that's one that can show up is this over-performance element, which can at times work in their favour.
Then there's the reverse of it. There is succumbing to it and being dominated by the experience internally and actually shying away. So, even though a person has earned their slot - they've interviewed well and they've got the position, or they've got a promotion, there could be a sense of withdrawing from their power, their potency, their leadership, making sure communication is happening consistently and clearly, and mistakes will start to show up, and psychologically they're aligning with how they feel inside and where they believe they belong, which is at a lower level of seniority or possibly not in the organisation at all. If it's significant or severe for them, that's a challenging one.
Graham: I've seen exactly everything that you've described across my client base. Sometimes the reactions, the overreactions are pretty extreme. They turn to micro-managing. The fear of failure, they become very poor at delegating and time management because they're trying to overachieve and all the things that you just described; it can be hidden in that context that you're seeing other symptoms before you get them to recognise that it's actually, as you say, an anxiety complex, something around not feeling adequate.
Do you think there are certain personalities or certain types of people that are more prone to this or is it just everybody's at risk?
Jewel: Yeah, so the clients that I've seen that struggle with this the most are already introverts, and when one is moving to more of a senior role, that whole piece around executive presence is real. Needing to communicate in a certain way, possibly to larger audiences, they're now on a pedestal; they'll get more in front of certain sectors of employees, employee resource groups for example, now they're being called out for all of these different leadership roles. It can turn that up for them more.
And the politics are intensified typically in senior leadership as well. So for those that have more of an internal place of comfort and recharging and living from that place, it can definitely be a bit more challenging for them. I've noticed that some of my more extroverted clients really live for the connection with others being seen, admired, being lauded publicly, and things like that. And when they come to you and you start these sessions, is it something that they've already recognised, or as I said earlier, is it something that's hidden? How does it normally show up for you? Yeah, so they can very easily identify that they're having challenges in the workplace and name what those challenges are typical. There is a level of insecurity inside of them around certain social scenarios that it's called, or they would call it or wouldn't, you know, could call it imposter syndrome.
These are still guys that have gone to some of the best schools in the world and have had amazing training, so mentally and logically they can see why they're there. Yet, internally they're having a contradictory experience of really asking themselves why them versus, you know, one of their colleagues or a competitor going through that role and they're struggling with that piece of the puzzle. I think one of the unique things - I can't say it's necessarily unique, but just because this is the population I work with, specifically with black men, but it could be unique to all populations across the board - is on that level of not wanting to show weakness. You know, I could definitely say for black men in a workplace that's very likely, they're gonna be the only black man on that level of seniority. They're so used to closing up when it comes to their insecurities in order to form a protective barrier of not being perceived as weak or less than others and just forging head to the best of their abilities, it can be a challenge for them to have that introspective nature, which is where an executive coach or psychotherapist would come in and create that safe environment for them to let their guard down and know that if they open up, their whole world isn't going to just fall apart. They'll lose their job, lose their family, and be homeless. I mean, you can't imagine the number of times I hear guys that are bringing in, you know, over $300,000 total comp thinking"You know if we go here in this conversation and I become vulnerable, it's going lead to being homeless on the street". So, yeah, it's interesting where the conversations can go.
Graham: Yeah, it's, it's definitely that piece of fear that drives imposter syndrome. You described it earlier as the fear of being found out, proving yourself to be inadequate. But one of the surprising areas that I see it turn up is when someone says, "I'm having trouble with public speaking. I'm not good at looking at an audience". And that's about feeling that they're not really competent to be at the front of the room and talking about something that they probably are experts in reality. Certainly, something that they probably know more about than anybody else in the room at the time, and yet they don't feel comfortable doing that at all. And it does when you, when you explore that, certainly when I explore with my coachee, it is about fear. It's about someone asking that one tricky question in the middle of a presentation they don't know the answer to, which is so unlikely it's untrue. And even if they did, you can handle it anyway by just saying, "I don't know". It doesn't make you an inadequate person. It is unbalanced, the imposter syndrome symptoms that I see, suffer from unbalance. It's an extremity of some kind of problem, whether it's overwork, whether it's, as I mentioned earlier, micromanaging. It's an extreme reaction, albeit on a spectrum.
When you are working with your clients on imposter syndrome, how do you help them unlock it and find solutions? What do you do with them?
Jewel: I am chomping at the bit to answer this one. I'm actually thinking of a specific client that I've been working with recently who talked about communication, had some challenges in public speaking and definitely a part of his job. So interesting that he found himself there and yet was having this unique challenge with it. And his concern was how he was being perceived in his communication and that it wasn't coming across clearly, or he wasn't delivering the content that needed to be delivered so people would just understand what was going on. We really worked on that and down to the minutia of what is it specifically that you're concerned about in your communication style or content. And then we got down to just the very technical pieces around his communication style and recommended that he see a communication coach, which is something that he said he never even thought about that before.
So some of the first places that I go are just concrete skills-based results. It may be causing some of that imposter syndrome or that anxiety that's heightening it for them. And so we actually help to resolve these concerns for my clients. And I notice that that typically helps. They often think that this is just how it is, it can't change for me. So that's the first thing we think through. Is there a solution that you could obtain? And then what would that look like? And for this particular client, he said, you know, to get a communications coach, I would reach out to my colleagues on LinkedIn or on a certain Slack channel and start getting resources. He reaches out, and by the end of the session, he's got references for communication coaches to help him gain mastery to, at the very least, get comfortable with this part of his professional life as far as improving his speaking is concerned.
So that's the first place that I typically go, just to see if we could shore up any skillset deficits that they have, that there might be some truth to possibly. As you said that question, that stickler question that comes in the middle of the presentation, doing quite a bit of role-playing as well as what are those questions? Let's go through your list cause there's probably something in your mind that you're concerned about being asked. So let's just free association, take a step back, and see what comes to mind as far as those. Then let's go through answers that you'd feel confident delivering. So again, that's more in the skillset-based arena. I found that to help a lot with my clients and being very proactive in places where they feel deficient or insecure.
The other piece that I do - and it's really pulling from my psychotherapy roots - is we go to their childhood and find out if was there something in their childhood developmental related to their parents or, you know, other caretaker figures or even other kids around, or cousins that may have cultivated this condition for them. So we need to go through a healing and reparative process for them to get something that they missed in the just developmental cycle that we can deliver for them psychologically, and emotionally, the image I like to use is of a gas tank being on full or medium or empty. And sometimes when we grow up, a tank can be empty or certain things and impact us even as adults.
So we have got to find ways to fill that, or just go through healing processes. We cannot change the past, but we can definitely change our relationship with it, which can definitely impact how they show up in the present. So psychological healing and growth is usually the second place I'll start doing my assessment to see if there's room for improvements there.
Graham: It's interesting. One of the perspectives that I see from people is that if they're from a background, whether it's a social background or educational background, that is not common amongst their peers, their new peers in their new role, that can start to undermine their confidence, create this anxiety, they don't understand why they're in this group or they're not comfortable in this. So whilst that might only be a matter of time to get comfortable, they're not comfortable, and that starts to set off this imposter syndrome, and often that's a domino effect, as I mentioned earlier, into other symptoms.
Another thing that I've found with imposter syndrome is that people have been promoted very, very quickly and they, they suddenly perhaps had three or four promotions in three or four years. They take a breath and look around and think, gosh, I'm the youngest one on this level. Or, as you mentioned earlier, I'm the only one of this 'type' here for whatever reason. Then suddenly they just have this lack of confidence or this fear rises up in front of them. It's definitely what I've seen, and it does chime with the things that you are talking about.
Do you find that when you are working with your coachees on this subject, it follows a pattern of time - it takes typically three months or six months? Is there a process that you see unfolding and it has a fairly well-worn path for you?
Jewel: So, in three months. they're really gaining a greater awareness of the condition and the various ways that it shows up for them in the workplace. Typically, in the early stages, it's more so focused on mindfulness, and mindful awareness, so not the sitting meditation type of mindfulness, but the active mindfulness of their walking through their day, and they're starting to notice themselves behave in a certain way. They're gaining greater awareness, of their own thoughts and how they're showing up in these social and professional settings. For them just to have more awareness of it.
Once they have that, and I call that my client's 'puzzle pieces', we're not taking action. We're not putting the puzzle together. We're just putting them on the table to see what might be a corner piece, what colours might be going together, or certain designs might end up going together, taking a look at the box, getting a good idea for what might go where. That's usually the first piece of 'awareness'. Sometimes with the awareness alone, because these are more times not very high functioning, very intelligent people, and they can start putting the pieces together themselves on, "oh, that's what I'm doing. That's how I'm behaving. That's how that's showing" and they start to, from a place of creativity, explore, "what's another way that I can go about approaching this that can give me a better result and internal experience inside?" So that's usually roughly around the first three months.
Then going into six months, I like to call it a jackhammer - we're going to work, we are going to start digging into some of these behavioural shifts and mindset that they can make, that will be more empowering for them. And what I always tell them is I'm not a doctor and this is your cure. Take these two pills and this will solve it type of thing. It's more of an experimentation for each person. Because everybody's unique and different in their own way. We've identified a few behaviours and mindset shifts that seem like they will be very supportive for you based on the conversation right here today, let's go ahead and have you utilise these in the next week, even if it's just one time and measure the results. So I'll circle back next week. We're going to see if that works for you. If it does, my recommendation is to continue doing that going forward. If not then we'll look for something different that works for you. So it's typically in that second three months where a lot of shifts happen.
Then in the following six months, there are more of those shifts. But it's more about empowering them to internalise the process of identifying where something might be off, and then identifying what those behaviour mindset shifts could be for themselves and having them make those changes. I'm in the business of working with clients, but they don't need me forever. They can actually internalise the process that I am coaching them through for themselves in an empowered state. They can move on, but of course, they can circle back to me anytime they move to one of the watershed moments. For me, often with clients when we talk about imposter syndrome and you are not the first, you are not the only one. There are many of us who have been through what you are going through, and possibly many of us who are still there. And this is a much more common phenomenon than you believe and your peer group might be suffering exactly what you are suffering right here, right now.
Graham: I think the next stage for me, as they progressed and started to become more confident in the anxiety as it, as it was dissipated, bearing in mind, they are normally, as you quite rightly say, very high functioning, very capable people, is that they don't suddenly lose this edge and become arrogant and overconfident and they become too complacent because the important piece in all of this is being aware of the fact that they're not infallible. It keeps them on their toes, keeps them on the edge of their seat, and keeps them at the top of their game. But it's got to be in balance. It can't be to the point where it paralyses them in the work that they do.
When you are working with your typical client base do you find that as you get towards the end of it, you start to see the same sort of things I was mentioning about arrogance or overconfidence or lack of perspective, or does that not happen for you?
Jewel: Typically toward the end of working with my clients that are experiencing imposter syndrome, it's actually more of a sense of comfort and peace in their authentic leadership. something they've had, possibly a bit of an estranged relationship from when they came to see me. So it's just a sense of resting and the value that they bring to a conversation or to an organisation. I heard the word balanced, and that's usually where it ends up. Just a greater sense of self and how they fit into the greater equation in the workplace and where their contributions are.
Usually, I am getting the arrogance and those things on the front end when they're coming in. And those are the kind of overcompensating behaviours and tactics that they fall back on to shore up that, this internal experience that they don't know how to address yet.
Graham: Well, we're coming to the end of this session, and I'm really grateful for you giving us your time today. We clearly can't cover everything about imposter syndrome in one setting. Jewel, how can our audience find you? How can they reach out to you?
Jewel: Once again, thank you for the opportunity to be here. One of the best things about doing podcasts for me is learning. It's just awesome how much I get to learn from these conversations. So thank you for providing me with this opportunity as well.
For the listeners out there, you're more than welcome to find me at blackexecutivemen.com and you can learn more about myself and my organisation and see if you'd like a consultation and reach out that way. You're also welcome to find me on LinkedIn, join the daily newsletter, and start getting some success strategies that I'll put out.
Contact Jewel Edward Love Jr:
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