Over the last few years I’ve been working with a fabulous mentor who has been instrumental in helping me find strategies to deal with my ‘inner critic’ or ‘imposter syndrome’.
Initially, my interest in this area was entirely personal and driven by the experience of the ego ride first appointment into a senior executive role. But, as I read more and shared more articles online, it became clear that I’m not alone. Maybe it’s the taboo subject of our generation, and is in some way linked to our connected device driven world where our social media lives belie reality. However, my experience is that when I raise it as an issue professionally it’s as if I just pointed to the elephant in the corner of the room and everyone wants to talk about it, just not in groups. So, I’m raising it here, with some reflections on the practices I use to manage it.
Being accountable to a mentor
Just having a mentor has helped me to identify the problem, and be held to account about what goes on in my inner world. I need to do this monthly, I’m a better person for it.
Understanding the internal voice
Possibly my mentor’s greatest gift to me was ‘Falling Upward: How to live the second half of life well’, by Richard Rohr. Richard is a Franciscan priest, and boy is he calm. In this book my epiphany moment was his description of our need to ‘discharge our loyal soldier’. This is the voice that served us well as we grew up, through our 20’s and into our early 30’s. It regulated our behaviour, guided us through what was ‘right and wrong’ and set us ‘the rules by which we should live in order to be something’. However, once we’ve got there, this voice isn’t as helpful. Once we can learn to recognise this, we can thank that voice when it makes and appearance and discharge it.
If I’m bluntly honest I think my loyal soldier only got louder when I got to that place where it had nothing to really regulate, and therefore became more of a distraction. So I’m also interested in how it can interfere with the work of an executive team who are all managing their own inner critic and their sense of place around the table, or ego. It’s definitely still a taboo subject in that setting, but maybe its the reason why so many organisations now provide mentors to their executive teams.
I’m also on the mindfulness wagon. In the same way that I avoided WeightWatchers for years because ‘I don’t need that’, I had avoided this. Then along came ‘HeadSpace’, again like WW it grabbed me because it’s an app. It means I can do this completely solo when it suits me. I recently had a conversation with my husband at the end of a work day, we both have big jobs and our end of day debriefs can be intense. On this occasion I had done a HeadSpace practice, he hadn’t. After a few minutes of listening to him ramble, I gently said ‘honey, go do a HeadSpace’ then call me back. The subject matter changed completely, and for the better. Finally, I journal now, I have a routine / structure to the content and it involves active gratitude.
Managing the inner critic is a bit like physical exercise. When it’s going well, life is great, but let’s be real we get thrown off balance a lot. So I’m also not going to say that my life is a bed of roses. Even with all these great strategies, I recently reached a point where sleep was just not possible and the inner critic was in charge at 1am, 2am, 3am, you get the picture. So in this world where we’re connected 24/7, we have to give intentional thought to how we can disconnect individually and how do we model this as leaders because I’m certain the alternative is not sustainable. I’m sure it starts with talking about it, taking the temperature of our team regularly and figuring out what works for each person.
Beth Bundy is Group People & Organisation Director at Auckland University of Technology
The other day I was thinking about the benefits I’ve experienced from living in three countries in the past decade. Meeting people from the U.S. to China, and Norway to South Africa has allowed me to build a wide range of networks with weak ties. Here at Hot Spots Movement, such diverse networks form a core part of our research, particularly in terms of their importance for sparking innovation and creativity, and helping individuals make transitions into different roles over longer working lives. In fact, diverse networks are becoming increasingly important for two reasons.
Firstly, we’re living longer and as a result will be working longer too. This means that our careers will look more like 50- or 60-year marathons than the 30-year ‘sprints’ of previous generations. Longer career spans will require us to move between roles, organisations and even industries at various points. Diverse networks are essential for achieving this, as they provide us with insight into other opportunities and help us make the leap when the time comes.
Secondly, technological advances mean that the roles or professions we have trained for – for example, accountant or lawyer – are likely to be disrupted over our longer careers. We are already seeing this with automation displacing the more routine work of paralegals and book-keepers. This means that we will need to be prepared to make more transitions in preparation for, and in response to, technological innovation in our industry. Here again, we will need a diverse network to help us navigate our way through this complexity and into new opportunities.
A great way of assessing the diversity of your network is by asking some very simple questions about who you spend time with, who you connect with over email or LinkedIn, and who you go to for advice or inspiration. Do these connections have the same cultural and academic backgrounds as you? Are they in similar industries? Or, do you have connections with people with quite different backgrounds, educational profiles, and from entirely different lines of work?
Having assessed the diversity of your connections, you might then be thinking to yourself, ‘how can I further strengthen the diversity of my network?’
My approach has involved living in different countries though this is of course not an option for everyone. Instead, perhaps there are small adjustments you can make that will increase the likelihood of you meeting and forming connections with people who are different to you. It could be as simple as spending time with other teams in your own organisation – organising social events where teams from different departments get together. Another approach could be to think more consciously about from whom you seek advice on your next work project. Do you have friends who can connect you with others in their network to provide a new source of advice and inspiration?
These are simple actions, but the results may be dramatic. So over the course of this week, perhaps consider how diverse your network really is. Then commit to making just a few new connections with people you don’t naturally spend time with. Who knows, you might stumble upon a new opportunity for your next career transition.
Gratton & Scott, Hundred-Year Life
Shifting Identities, The Strength of Weak Ties, Mark S. Granovetter, American Journal of Sociology, V.78 I.6, 1973
Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra, Harvard Business School Press, 2003
The Future of Retirement, Life After Work, HSBC, 2014
I’m constantly struck by the cross-disciplinary learning that business can take from the arts. At our Masterclasses for the Future of Work Research Consortium, two of our most popular external speakers have been Kasper Holten and Farooq Chaudhry, formerly director of opera at the Royal Opera House and producer for English National Ballet respectively. They weren’t just popular with our audience of senior HR execs because they were something a bit different. They were popular for the meaningful and actionable takeaways they provided about leadership, discipline and innovative thinking.
This got me thinking about the lessons I’ve learned from a lifelong passion of mine, ballet. Whether watching the prima ballerinas at Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden, or sweating away at my own amateur ballet practice, here’s what I try to bring to the workplace from this disciplined art form:
Routine breeds excellence
Ballet is the living and breathing embodiment of the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’. Dancers pirouette their way to around a 100,000 hours of practice before they can even begin their professional careers. This impressive number of hours is made up of the same exercises year in-year out eventually culminating in exquisite, seemingly effortless performances. And it’s not a huge leap to apply this to business. In terms of a process or delivery style, routine practice enables us to deliver more, faster and with increased confidence.
Prioritise your time management
A good friend of mine went to ballet school, and at the age of eleven was skilfully juggling school work and punishing practice schedules, all the while maintaining a positive mindset. This ability to prioritise and manage your time alongside your positivity is crucial in our workplaces today. I see clients balancing increased workloads with less discretionary time, while being expected simultaneously to produce creative thought. This means they have to balance their focus on both hard and soft skills.
Strive for positivity and build resilience
In terms of knocks to confidence and the need to survive tough feedback, ballet is an undeniably punishing career. Even the likes of Darcey Bussell of Royal Ballet fame and Carlos Acosta, who’s meteoric rise to excellence has been well-documented, have suffered failed auditions and crippling injuries. It amazes me then to see dancers dart through the air as though they don’t have a care in the world. This is something I try to apply at work. Even with the most well-practiced routines and brilliantly prioritised schedule, we will experience times that test us. Remembering these are just moments on the much bigger picture of our careers will help us build a positive mindset and maintain resilience.
To learn about other cross-disciplinary learnings we can apply in business, contact firstname.lastname@example.org