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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

I first heard the term "Imposter Syndrome" at Agile Coach Camp 2016. I signed up for Coach Camp on a whim, it was inexpensive and I heard about it in Agile Florida Slack (if you're an agilist in Florida, you should definitely sign up!).

Coach Camp is an Open Space conference, because other than opening and closing activities each day, as well as some pre-set session time slots, everything that happens there is relatively unplanned. The Fundamental "Rules" of the sessions that happen during Open Space conferences are:

  • Whoever shows up is the right group

  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

  • Whenever it starts is the right time

  • When it's over, it's over

The participants decide what topics to bring, as well as which they want to attend, and they're free to drop in, add a bit of wisdom (or not) and move onto something else. This is very different than a traditional conference, but it's something I was introduced to at Agile Open Florida, and I love the freedom to follow "The Law of Two Feet" which says “If you are not learning or contributing where you are, find a place where you can learn or contribute". Best of all, since everyone understands the rules, no one takes it personally or gets offended.

In 2016, I felt so much like an imposter that even attending the Imposter Syndrome topic made me feel worse. After all, these people knew so much more than I about systems level thinking, had done transformations at dozens or more companies, and they had SUCH great ideas about how to lead companies across the bridge to agility that I felt the need to hide.

However, I spent about 30 minutes chatting in a session called "The Agile Coach Dr is in" with Michael W. Ricciardelli II and realized what I needed to do to overcome it. I had to bring my whole self to my role, show up, and speak up more often, and I had to stop trying to do it all myself. I changed my approach and together with the Scrum Masters and other leaders, invited others to participate in the agile transformation, and everything turned around.

We introduced accountability to the teams at the leadership level through an Agile Leadership board that served a Team of Teams forum. The leaders resolved 75% of the organization impediments that were slowing the teams down, we increased communication, trust and collaboration across the teams, and the teams started to know they could count on their leaders to solve the tough organizational challenges they continued to face.

We had a major success when one of our teams, using sprint goals that encouraged negotiation, delivered not just one, but two initiatives within the time they thought they could only get one done. We started doing much smaller efforts, using MMF's, and trimming the tail of the product backlog when needed, and as a result, we were much more successful. We also overcame years of mistrust between our marketing department and the development teams, and created some real value for the company.

When I saw the topic at this year's Coach Camp, I realized that my feelings towards Imposter Syndrome have changed dramatically. I no longer feel as though I need to have all of the answers to be a great coach, and I recognize that everyone has a responsibility to move the agility of the organization forward. I can't possibly do that alone. I also realized that I'm don't have to be perfect at coaching, in fact, in the last few years, I had a colleague who repeatedly told me (and my colleagues) that I'm awesome. I agree - in part - because really, I'm only 55% awesome. There's 45% that absolutely NOT awesome, and might never be awesome. It's that realization that keeps my ego in check, and probably makes me a better coach as a result.

By the way, if you know me, and you think I'm being too hard on myself and should use a higher number, have a chat with my husband. He lives with me, and he'll set you straight!

How about you? What percentage of awesome would you rate yourself?

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