Posted on: October 12, 2023
Have you ever worried that your clients or colleagues might discover that you’ve been making it up as you go? When you look at the accomplished people around you, do you feel like a fraud?
You might have imposter syndrome.
“It refers to the tendency of many people to really undervalue their success,” says keynote speaker and leadership coach Kris Kelso. “We tend to overvalue other people’s accomplishments and discount or question the validity of our own accomplishments.”
Kris is the author of “Overcoming the Impostor,” a book that helps aspiring leaders of every age become more confident in their own abilities. Based on his experience as an entrepreneur a leadership coach — and inspired by his own battles with imposter syndrome — Kris’s book is a guide for anyone who’s looking for the courage to take chances.
“Imposter syndrome is the fear of failure,” Kris explains. “It’s the fear that if you make a mistake, it’s going to expose you as inadequate or as a fraud. And that fear will hold you back.”
On episode 235 of The PR Maven® podcast, Kris shared his secrets to conquering self-doubt, developing confidence and learning to lead without fear.
Be an explorer, not a tour guide.
Kris is a big fan of Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset,” and he draws on her research when he explains how imposter syndrome manifests in people.
Two of the mindsets that Dweck points to are the “tour guide” and the “explorer.”
“The tour guide deals with imposter syndrome by avoiding it,” he says. “They stay out of any situation where their confidence is threatened. They put boundaries around that comfort zone and make the same loop over and over again.”
On the other hand, explorers don’t avoid their inner critic — they disarm it. “The way they disarm it,” Kris says, “is by thinking differently about success and failure.” Explorers think of failure as an opportunity to learn, experiment and grow — rather than as a sign of weakness.
According to Kris, the secret to overcoming imposter syndrome is by adopting an explorer mindset around failure. It’s like digital marketing: you have to make small bets before you can make bigger bets — and you have to be prepared for many of those small bets to fail so you can learn what works.
It takes a long time to become an overnight success
Kris draws from his own journey to help others embrace the explorer mindset: “Whenever I try something for the first time, there’s only two outcomes that I’m going to get — I’m either going to succeed or I’m going to learn,” he says. “It’s one of those two, and either one is a net win.”
We may look at accomplished people and assume that their path toward success was fast and straightforward. “Usually, when you dig into those stories,” Kris says, “it was failure, learning, step forward, step backward, sideways here and there, and then all of the sudden, boom, something took off.”
What looks from the outside like effortless success is the culmination of learning. “I heard someone say it takes a long time to become an overnight success,” says Kris. Accepting that failure is an essential part of the process helps us feel less like imposters and more like we’re in the middle of a productive journey.
Kris suggests picking up a copy of Dr. Roger Hall’s “DIY Brain” for practical advice on changing your mindset. “This book is a blend of the science of how your brain works with a lot of entertaining, sticky fun concepts on how to leverage the way that your brain works,” Kris says. It’s not specifically about business, he adds, but it will help you notice and manage stress, improve your memory and change your thought patterns.
Turn your confidence into business growth
Kris says that developing a mindset of experimentation and being willing to fail is especially important for anyone who works with clients. “If you present yourself as someone who has all the answers,” he explains, “you’re setting yourself up for imposter syndrome.”
Instead, Kris suggests taking your explorer mindset to your clients. He recommends telling your clients that you know how to do the experiments to figure out what’s going to work. Explain to your clients that setbacks are how you get to success.
“That mindset shift, and how you sell and present yourself, can be a big factor in helping you overcome imposter syndrome,” Kris adds. He points out that it can also help you grow your business and deliver better results for your clients.
The tour guide, who operates from a place of fear, gets their confidence from what they know. The explorer gets their confidence from their ability to learn, adapt, experiment and turn failure into success. If your confidence doesn’t have boundaries on it, Kris says, you can go in any direction that interests you because you know that you can learn your way to success.
The power of the explorer mindset in action
Kris’s own experience writing his book illustrates the power of adopting an explorer mindset. “I wrote it first for myself, for the journey I had been on,” he says.
But to write the book, Kris had to overcome another wave of imposter syndrome. “I didn’t think I could write a book,” he says, explaining that he started by seeking out a ghostwriter. Over the course of outlining the book with ghostwriter Matt Litton, Kris tapped into his explorer mindset and developed the confidence to write the manuscript himself, with Matt by his side as a writing coach.
“I’m very proud of the fact that I actually wrote it myself,” Kris says, adding that the response has been “so gratifying.” By gaining the confidence to write a book, he’s “opened up a lot of doors” that have allowed him to speak and run programs on imposter syndrome on multiple continents.
Kris’s experience is a testament to how the explorer mindset can silence the voice that accuses you of being an imposter. By overcoming self-doubt and being open to failure, you can explore farther and wider than any tour guide could imagine.
This is based on episode 235 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.