How is our culture helping us to combat Imposter Syndrome?
Despite a successful career spanning three decades, Paul still regularly finds himself having to manage his own imposter syndrome. He shares his thoughts on how fostering a culture where everyone feels valued can help improve the issue of imposter syndrome.
Did you know that an estimated 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives? It’s a figure that’s all too real for me. It’s something I’ve had to manage over a number of years, even as I was being promoted and my career progressed – I used to live with a feeling that at any moment HR were going to knock on my door and say "Paul, enough is enough, you’ve hoodwinked the organisation for too long."
I began a new role here recently, and all the usual Imposter Syndrome triggers are there; I’m dealing with a new, more senior, stakeholder group and I’ve got a brilliant new team under me who are so much more expert and knowledgeable than I am. So I’ve really got to focus on managing my own self-confidence so I can be effective in role as quickly as possible.
I’ve actually incorporated what I need to do into my personal development plan – for example moving from being a deep subject matter expert in a specific area of the business to being able to make a broader strategic contribution beyond my field of expertise.
"I used to live with a feeling that at any moment HR were going to knock on my door and say ‘Paul, enough is enough, you’ve hoodwinked the organisation for too long'."
"Nearly 70% of people (men AND women) will experience the Imposter Syndrome phenomenon at least once in their life."
What does Imposter Syndrome look like to me?
I graduated from university with a degree in Philosophy. It’s a subject I am passionate about but I never really thought what career I would ultimately embark on. Burger King might not be the obvious career destination for a philosopher, but I started working for them on a management training scheme. Eight years later I was running a flagship store – this was a scale retail business and I enjoyed it. It taught me a huge amount about management and leadership, but I was always plagued by the fact that I wasn’t fulfilling my true potential.
One day, out of the blue, I got a call from a recruitment consultant and I completed a telephone interview, before being invited to a face to face meeting with their client, Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). I had no idea what the job was – I thought maybe they wanted me to oversee the catering in their Head Office sites given my background.
I remember in my interview speaking eloquently and passionately about the way in which we trained and coached our teams, tightly managed our costs and had a real focus on customer service – all within an environment heavily controlled by food hygiene and health and safety regulation. I also remember telling him how much a gold standard whopper should weigh, but realise now he was probably less interested in that.
I was successful in the interview and received a phone call that was to change the course and direction of my life. Clearly impressed by my forensic knowledge of the specification of a Whopper, I was offered a role as a trainee Branch Manager.
That was a hugely positive moment in my career, but as soon as I stepped foot into the very different world of branch banking, my Imposter Syndrome started to kick in. I’d spent much of my formative career working in a very different type of Retail Management and now I had achieved this status of Bank Manager. I’ll never forget the look of complete astonishment and absolute pride on my Dad’s face and for many years as my career progressed he would say “I still can’t believe it’s true”. Clearly that didn’t help my feelings of Imposter Syndrome but I knew what he meant.
It’s something that stayed with me as I started to progress throughout the organisation, that nagging thought – did I deserve to be here based on my merits? Was I here because I have the right skills and capabilities or was it just pure luck? I was sure that someone senior in HR would eventually say “He used to work where?!” and then the game would be up.
"It’s something that stayed with me as I started to progress throughout the organisation, that nagging thought – did I deserve to be here based on my merits?"
Thankfully I was a successful Branch Manager and progressed my career – eventually becoming an Area Manager. At that point my line manager said I needed to broaden my career by moving into ‘the Centre’ – otherwise known as head office. The Centre had an almost mythical quality about it, and this for me represented a significant move out of what had become a real comfort zone in the branches.
Again I found myself actively dealing with Imposter Syndrome as I was thrust into lots of situations where I was surrounded by people who seemed to be a lot more expert and experienced than I was. My career progressed rapidly, and when I used to talk to my Dad about it (who by now probably thought I was making the whole thing up) I always used to say my success was “more down to good luck than good management”.
Even now I still tend to put my successes down to luck or outside factors. During lockdown I thought it would be a good idea to do another degree. I was really pleased to have achieved a First. Even as I was proclaiming the result to my partner and our three cats (we were in lockdown), I was thinking that maybe my grade had been inflated by the University in the hope that I’d tell other people in the business how easy it was to achieve a First.
I used to find getting feedback challenging. If I suspected the smallest hint of criticism, I’d exaggerate it in my mind to the extent that I thought “This is it, I’ve been found out”. If I got praise for a job well done I’d feel like my line manager was simply doing it to tick a box.
What can we do to manage Imposter Syndrome?
One of the most helpful things for me is that I’m able to talk about my Imposter Syndrome with my manager. He knows all about it and is very supportive. It’s important to remember that just because someone doesn’t experience Imposter Syndrome themselves, doesn’t mean they can’t help you. They can make simple adjustments to make sure that you are able to be as effective as possible in your role.
Other ways that we can support colleagues dealing with Imposter Syndrome is first and foremost to talk about it. If four people are in a room together the likelihood is that three of them will be dealing with, or will have dealt with Imposter Syndrome. It’s vital to remember that it’s pretty normal and that we’re not alone in this.
In terms of the practical things that can help - finding mentoring opportunities can be a great way to get realisable feedback from a trustworthy source, rather than just relying on intrusive and negative thoughts. We also offer a number of internal networks and resources here at the Group, which can help give those struggling an outlet to be able to talk about it and find ways to manage those negative feelings.
How does our culture help those experiencing Imposter Syndrome?
By fostering a more supportive culture we hope to create an environment where people can feel confident and thrive. By trusting each other and knowing that we all have the same desire to help each other succeed, we can create a workplace where tasks like presenting, asking questions and speaking up in meetings will be less daunting.
It’s notable that the biggest proportion of colleagues who reached out to talk about Imposter Syndrome were female. We need to create a fully inclusive environment where everyone feels valued. Being inclusive is a non-negotiable – we need to value diversity no matter what form it takes. Speaking with a different accent can be enough to stop someone from making a contribution, and we need to recognise and overcome that.
Our culture informs everything we do on a day to day basis – not only does it help us to fulfil our purpose as a Group, but it enables all of our people to bring the whole of themselves to work on a consistent basis. As leaders in the organisation we have to recognise that Imposter Syndrome is real and pervasive, and we’ve got to create that sense of trust so that people feel supported. Everyone has a role to play in creating an environment where we all feel confident in our own abilities and, most importantly, can be proud of the contribution that we make to the Group.
Customer Demand & People Planning Director
Paul leads the Customer Demand and People Planning team for Lloyds Banking Group. He is accountable for the effective and efficient deployment of our 25,000 customer facing colleagues who service the full spectrum of our 20 million customers banking needs.
He has accountability for managing the change portfolio and has ownership of important business services including cash/cheque deposits and withdrawals which are used in excess of 500,000 times per day. He is also leading the work to evolve the future roles of colleagues in the group, to ensure they are best placed to meet the changing needs and expectations of our customers, and has a critical role to play in activating the Group’s strategic workforce plan.
Reporting directly into the Consumer Relationships Group Executive Director, Paul is a member of the Group’s Senior Leadership Team, and is also a Non-Executive Director of a large Multi-Academy Trust. He lives with his partner Julia and his three cats in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.
As well as the wide range of development opportunities that are available, we’re committed to providing a compelling reward package which offers flexibility and choice.
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