Wednesday, October 12, 2022

when leaders are struck by doubt, it's their whole organisation and communities that suffer, not just them..

Locality (the sector body who support and advocate for local community organisations of all types) recently invited me to be part of the line up for their ongoing 'lunch and learn' programme, which sees leaders of all types of community businesses, charities, social enterprise, etc come together to reflect on shared issues.

As a long standing member of this body (I remember when Steve Wyler was promoting it as part of a tour of conferences he was doing several decades ago after it was first formed!), it seemed a good opportunity to share some of my thinking around imposter syndrome - and in turn, have that challenged and expanded through the stories and experiences of leaders of different local communities of all types.

And as in previous instances where sector bodies have invited me to facilitate conversation around the topic of 'imposterism' with their respective constituencies, I wanted to share a summary of my notes so that the learning and insights people offered each other might have opportunity to be of benefit to others who weren't otherwise able to be part of it as it happened.

Having led similar conversations in other sectors, what struck me initially was the overlaps and similarity in how people shared that feeling like an imposter had impacted on them:

- it meant that they hadn't put themselves forward for new opportunities; 

- it had stopped them from speaking out, or challenging others, in the belief that the other person(s) were more expert and qualified than they were;

- it undermined relationships people felt they were able to create and manage with their colleagues, as they felt that their team mates were seeing the person to be a 'fraud' in the same way that they saw themselves;

- some recognised that bouts of anxiety are quicker to surface whenever any crises in personal or professional circumstances arise, or we realise that "maybe we could have done that better, after all..."

What also struck me was that the ways in which people initially shared how they'd approached managing these feelings to date also echoed the practices that people in other sectors use.

Such overlap in how these feelings impact on how people feel they're able to do their jobs, and in how they try and manage them, suggests that we shouldn't only be looking to our immediate peers in our own sectors for encouragement and support - it could be equally valuable from anywhere?

However, there was an additional dimension to this conversation that I was keen to explore with participants - most of the published material on imposter syndrome seems to almost exclusively focussed on the individual experiencing the feelings of doubt. But if a leader (such as the people in this shared conversation) is so afflicted, what does this mean for their wider organisation?

This prompt drew out some observations and ideas which perhaps aren't that surprising when you start to think this through:

- because they doubted their own judgement, people's decision-making abilities were compromised which meant that things sometimes take longer to be agreed or enacted than they might otherwise have needed to. And in turn, this means greater costs are incurred from delays or missed opportunities; 

- as leaders, people look to them to model behaviours and identify 'norms' in that organisation: if feelings of imposterism are limiting that leaders' ability to be decisive, pro-active, speak out, etc, then these behaviours (or rather, lack thereof) can quickly spread to the detriment of the organisation delivering on what it's supposed to be.

The conversation then moved back to revisit the ways in which people had initially shared how they are/have approached managing feelings of doubt to date, and in particular, seeing if there may be factors that are specific to leaders of community organisations that might mean they need a different set of tools and resources.

Two key themes seemed to emerge from this:

1) the inability to feel that as a leader, you are able to receive robust and honest feedback on your performance (i.e. no matter how you ask your colleagues, they'll always say they think you're a great boss, regardless of what they may actually think). And without such validations or encouragements to challenge them, leaders can quickly find themselves in a lonely vacuum where damaging self-perceptions can become quickly entrenched;

2) as leaders, we're looked to by our colleagues for support and encouragement to them. Because of the nature of some of the responsibilities we may hold in our leadership role, we can't easily (if ever) feel able to be fully and completely open and honest with our team about how we may be feeling in turn. We therefore need a space where we can meet with equals in honesty, safety, and openness, to be able to voice these feelings, as part of reconsidering them.

And it's this last point that affirmed why Locality's Lunch and Learn series is so important and needed; and also why I'm glad that I say "yes" to every invitation I receive to speak about my book - because I always use it as an opportunity not to try and flog more copies of it (although all sales are always gratefully received), but rather because it means that a body of people will gain an opportunity to have a shared conversation about something that's currently holding them back, or acting to the detriment of themselves and their wider organisations.

(and if you want to know about the book that prompted Locality to ask me to guest lead this session:

Monday, October 10, 2022

could legal company forms help protect my mental wellbeing?

The date of my publishing this post on my blog (Oct 10th) marks World Mental Health day - a time when there are floods of other posts, tweets, emails, etc being circulated, so I don't expect that this will catch too many people's attention, but I've always stated that this blog is in part my 'thinking aloud space' - and this post relates to me 'thinking aloud' about an aspect of my mental wellbeing, and how I try and best manage it.

Firstly - as background to to the title of this post, I've always said that I prefer being a sole trader instead of incorporating myself as a limited company (as conventional wisdom would suggest I should)

This isn't just because I try and be unconventional, but also in remaining a sole trader, I have to pay more tax on my income and earnings that a company director or salaried employee would (and I think that paying tax is actually a good idea). It also means that technically, I've unlimited personal liability - I can't easily "wash my hands" of a problematic contract by simply dissolving a company (in whose name the contract etc, would be, meaning that nothing of the fall out would legally stick to me). As such, it forces me to try and take greater care in how I approach my work and also hopefully sends a message to those I work with that in seeking to establish trust and rapport with them, I'm willing to make myself very vulnerable personally. This element of personal risk is something I also try and further manage through my professional insurance policies, and how I seek to structure and maintain relationships with each person and organisation I find myself working with.

But it's world mental health day, so I'm taking this opportunity to revisit the above position about my not being incorporated to review it from a new perspective - my mental wellbeing.

As a sole trader, parent, carer, etc etc (we all have multiple identities - some of which are more secret than others...), I'm very conscious of trying to best manage my own health and wellbeing, including my mental health. And this list of roles I hold each brings its own tensions, stresses, anxieties, etc that aren't always easy to 'turn off' - but I've always sought to harness what some might see as negative or harmful emotional states that arise from them, to generate responses that help motivate and keep me moving forwards.  

Now, from time to time, I try and take stock of how I'm doing in managing the above - always with a view to trying to see if there might be ways to change a practice or habit that could help  further mitigate or reduce a recognised stressor in/on myself.

And it's the idea of company forms that I'm currently trying to consider to this end - a limited company exists as a 'person' separate to me. It's therefore that person, not me, who would sign contracts, agree terms and conditions, etc - so in the event of the worst coming to pass in my delivering a piece of work (the client decides to sue me), then I could give notice of dissolving the company, and not be concerned about the spectre of potential personal bankruptcy.

However... that's something of a 'nuclear option': I'd only be able to use this fall back position once, because if so 'activated' in that worst case scenario, then all my other business activities linked and associated to and through the company would also cease to be.  And if I then recontacted everyone in my current/original guise of being a sole trader, it would look like I was trying to duck responsibilities, be unethical, and generally exhibit the sort of behaviours that as a society, we decry when we see some larger corporates doing...

And then there's the question of how I'd mitigate the risk that having such a legally distanced structured from the people I'm working with might mean in terms of my becoming complacent in my relationships with them - one of the main reasons I'm currently maintaining my status as a sole trader.


So, on balance, I'm not sure that having identified this option I can actually adopt it - in theory it would offer me an assurance against the 'worst case scenario', and so help reduce a stressor and anxiety. But in practice if I ever needed to enact it, it would mean that I'd have to shut all my work down and not be able to easily restart working in the way I am now - in much the same way that if I were sued as a sole trader (and my insurance providers felt I'd not acted with sufficient degree of professional conduct with the upset client in order to cover the claim), I'd not be able to easily restart working in the way I am now. 

'Killing' a company that I owned could also impact on my personal credit rating (in the same way that getting personally sued might also) - so that consideration also balances itself out.


But it's an interesting perspective on the question that every sole trader and freelancer faces at some point - of whether to incorporate themselves as a limited company; but from a very different starting point. A perspective that seems timely with it being world mental health day.

However, as will all of my 'thinking aloud' posts that I make here in this blog, I'd be interested and keen to hear what holes people might be able to pick in my above 'workings out', and if there's anything that I've missed in thinking this through?