What’s your biggest fear?  Public speaking?  Being evaluated? Death?  Some people dread public speaking so much that they’d rather be the one receiving the eulogy than giving it, as the saying goes.  Receiving an evaluation ranks high in the fear and dread department.   Performance reviews, annual assessments, 360 evaluations, exams, or ratings of any kind aren’t the things we look forward to but they’re essential to growing as a leader.  Here’s why.

How do you measure up?

If you’re like most people, you compare yourself to others to get a sense of how you measure up.  We do it all the time, sometimes without even realizing it.

“Jenny was awesome at the meeting.  She was so compelling the way she spoke about the most important parts of our strategic plan.  I want to work on my persuasive tone and effective pauses at the meeting next week,” you might reflect while walking back to your office.

Being motivated by the talented people around you is a good thing.  Feeling slightly uncomfortable because you’re swimming with the big fish is a good thing.  It’s a sign that you’ve chosen to stretch and learn, that you’re in a changing environment with new things to learn, and that you’re growing.  And patterning yourself after people you admire is a healthy, normal part of your career evolution, according to Harvard Business Review writer Herminia Ibarra in her article, “You’re Never Too Old to Fake It ‘Til You Make It.”

A little competition helps

Maybe your comparison to your peers and superiors is fueled by your competitive spirit.  “Jenny’s a good speaker but I’m going to rock it at the next meeting.  I can make a case for my goals and command respect as well if not better,” you think, striding to your office.  Fine, get your best game on and your team will gain two awesome players:  you and Jenny.  You don’t need to bring anyone down in order to rise up.  However, if Jenny is one of those people who’s always hogging the limelight or worse, taking credit for other people’s ideas, you can still rise above without taking her down.  At the next meeting, compliment her for her idea or work (you get viewed as a team player) and then deliver your idea while highlighting your recent work to move that idea forward (you’re viewed as someone who substantiates ideas with hard work).    You don’t have to be obnoxious.  There are many effective ways to talk about your accomplishments without turning people off, according to Peggy Klaus, author of Brag, The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It.

The thought of undergoing a professional evaluation or academic exam or hurdle, if you feel like an impostor, is awful because:

  1. You’re certain that you’ll fail.
  2. You’re sure that your weaknesses will far outweigh your accomplishments.
  3. You’ll be exposed for being a fraud, having faked it ‘til you made it this far.
  4. As a perfectionist, you’ll over-prepare so much that you’ll go completely blank when asked to answer a question or, more likely, you’ll do great but you’ll be so frazzled afterwards that you’ll give yourself only a half-hearted “woohoo” before you start dreading and preparing for the next challenge.
  5. You’ll procrastinate and not prepare enough, thus having a built-in excuse when you do earn a subpar review.
  6. All of the above.

Whether you tend toward being a perfectionist or a procrastinator, these self-limiting patterns are typical among professionals, according to Valerie Young.

But maybe your comparisons brings you down.  Maybe you view Jenny and most everyone else you work with as smarter, more accomplished and simply better than you.  You might have the same rank as they do—graduate student, senior manager, program director—but certainly they come by their achievements a lot easier than you do.   You have no actual proof of this but just look how smooth and confident they are.

Here’s a little secret.  Those talented colleagues of yours?  They might be feeling the same thing as you are but because they’re high achievers (just like you are, by the way), their insecurities are hard to spot, says Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.

If you end up feeling inferior to your colleagues every time you take stock, you might be experiencing the impostor syndrome.  You feel less qualified, less talented, and lucky to even have your position.  Even though you hold the same position as your peers, unlike them you got to where you are on merits other than your professional skills.  It must be your interpersonal skills like charm and likability or the fact that you were in the right time at the right place that got you to where you are.

If you do feel this way, you’re not alone.  It’s estimated that at least seventy percent of all male and female professionals experience the impostor syndrome.  Yep, male and female, as shown in double blind tests since the impostor phenomenon was originally identified as a predominantly female issue in the late 1970s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes.

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