They are good, but also lucky. Allow me to explain.
It’s better to be lucky than good, the adage goes. I don’t believe that, but I am certain of this: All great leaders are lucky and good.
No matter how talented and intelligent you are, you can’t rise to the top of your industry without a bit of luck. You find yourself at the right place at the right time. You read a news article that sparks an idea. You make a connection that opens a door.
This happens every day in the business world. The first Spartan race I ever put on was actually just a few of my friends racing up and down the mountain behind my farm in Vermont. A bit of luck made this happen and helped turn it into a business.
I got lucky, but I put myself in position to get lucky. Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, has been studying the science of luck for decades and concluded this: Successful people make their own luck.
In one of Wiseman’s experiments, he asked a group of self-proclaimed “lucky” and “unlucky” people to count the number of photos in the newspaper. The lucky people overwhelmingly saw the ad on the second page giving them the answer and telling them to stop. The unlucky people missed it.
Lucky people, concluded Wiseman, keep themselves open to new experiences and opportunities, which leads to “lucky” successes. This is why I accept every meeting and networking opportunity I can.
For business leaders, serendipity can lead to the so-called impostor syndrome—or the belief that your accomplishments are all due to luck. Some doubt that they have any special talents, smarts, or skills.
The impostor syndrome is especially common among perfectionists, high-achievers, and natural-born leaders, but almost everyone experiences it at some point in their lives. Most of us won’t admit it. When you’re the emperor, you don’t want anyone to notice you own no clothes.
How do you overcome the impostor syndrome? Start by accepting this simple truth:
All great leaders are terrified.
“Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO,” Howard Schultz told the New York Times.
That insecurity, he added, is actually a strength. You may not always know exactly what you’re doing, but you stay open to figuring it out along the way. In other words, you position yourself to get lucky.
If you’re feeling doubt, try this five-step plan to combat impostor syndrome.
Step #1: Call Out the Culprit
When you feel it, pinpoint what’s causing your anxiety. Were you recently promoted? Have you been asked to deliver the keynote speech at a prestigious conference? Are you under a crushing deadline?
Impostor syndrome can hit at any time, but identifying the root cause is the first step in overcoming it.
Step #2: Identify Your Zone of Genius
What are you uniquely great at? Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap, calls this your zone of genius. How are you leveraging those talents to make an impact at your company? What have you accomplished over your career thanks to your zone of genius?
It’s not good to live in the past, of course, but it’s important to reflect on it. Remind yourself of everything that you’ve achieved, and don’t forget the hard work and perseverance it took to get there. Make no mistake: You’ve earned your spot.
Step #3: Talk to the Last Person Who Promoted You
Could be a current or former supervisor. Either way, she wouldn’t have promoted you just for the hell of it. If you fail, she fails.
Ask what made her think you’re ready for the next step. What potential did she see? Are you living up to it?
This is a great opportunity to get honest feedback. In addition, she surely has experienced similar feelings of doubt or inadequacy and will be able to offer reassurance and advice.
Step #4: Make a Courageous Decision
When in doubt, there’s no better way to push that feeling aside than to take action. Yes, it’ll be scary, but it’s the only way to grow.
Whether you’re thinking about asking for more responsibility, considering a job change, or launching a side hustle, there’s only one way to find out if you’ve got what it takes: Go for it.
Courageous decisions are contagious. Make one, and it’s far easier to make a second … and a third and a fourth. When they pay off, they drive you closer to your goal. When they don’t, they teach you important lessons. Either way, you win.
Step #5: Share Your Knowledge
What could you possibly pass on to others? A lot. Everyone has something worthwhile to teach; you just have to figure out what it is.
Sharing your experiences won’t just help others on their own journeys. It’ll help you realize that you’re right where you belong.