Is there a skill gap in your team?
Do you have a job to fill, but nobody on your team appears qualified for it?
Are you sure?
Is it possible that your team members are far more qualified and capable than you think? Or even more than they themselves think?
Over the past few years, Caterpillar, the famous world leader in construction, mining, and industrial equipment implemented restructuring plans to lower operating costs in response to sluggish global sales. A key element of their plan was job consolidation. Employees took a self-assessment to rate their own skills, and they were given two options: train to gain 2-3 new skills and stay or leave the company.
It was fascinating how employees assessed their own skills. Most either over-estimated or under-estimated themselves. This is not surprising. Studies show that self-assessments are notoriously inaccurate. People overestimate their skills out of ignorance, not arrogance. They are not bloviating or boasting. It’s usually that they either don’t know the skill level needed to perform a function or they don’t know the outcome standard that defines success. It’s the “How hard can that be? It’s not rocket science!” or “Done is good enough!” approach.
When these skill over-estimators are given new assignments, it soon becomes clear they’re in over their head. The solution is simple: retrain or reassign…again.
The bigger problem is with the people who underestimate their skills. Even if they want to advance, they undervalue themselves and assume that they either partially or entirely lack skill or knowledge. They feel an internal tension, torn between “I want that promotion!” and “I don’t think I’m qualified.” Their internal voice says, “Don’t try. It’s too hard. You’ll fail, and you’ll be humiliated. Or you’ll succeed, and you’ll have to sustain the success…it’s too much pressure!” The classic Impostor Syndrome, where successful people doubt their own success and feel fraudulent in their career.
The result? They are overlooked for promotions and sweet assignments because they don’t give enough evidence to managers that they are indeed qualified or have the potential (or even the desire) for a different assignment.
What looks like a skill gap is actually a confidence cap. Cap, not gap. In other words, it’s not a lack of confidence. It’s a limit of confidence. These people have confidence…it’s what got them where they are. They took the class, earned the degree, applied for the job, showed up for the interview, accepted the job…all these things require confidence. But over time, they reach a limit of their confidence and are stonewalled from moving forward. They silently suffer, and you assume you have a skill gap.
As a leader, your job is to remove that cap, which will close that gap. Tackling this Impostor Syndrome is not just the work of an individual. It becomes the job of a leader to guide their team members through this. You can do 4 things (which will be covered in depth in subsequent articles here.)
1. Face your own Fraud Fears
If you struggle with Impostor Syndrome, get busy and get beyond it. There are so many resources out there. A great book I often recommend is “Secret Thoughts of Successful Women” by Valerie Young” which is excellent for both men and women despite the title. I also recommend my own book, “Pushing Your Envelope,” which is available on Amazon. Also, my video deep-dive self-paced course, The Fraud Free Framework, is available here.
2. Decipher your team’s “signals.”
Your team may look like high achievers, but what they’re thinking could be radically different. You see amazing work, but they are thinking, “I’m terrified to fail. I’m exhausted from working so hard.” You see someone who juggles a lot of work, but they’re thinking, “I can’t delegate! If I’m so smart, I shouldn’t have to delegate or ask for help.” You see someone who is always picture-perfect, on top of details, and well organized, but they think, “If what I do fails, then I am a failure. I must be perfect. It’s not done till it’s overdone. Others can be less than perfect, but I can’t because that shows I’m weak.”
3. Evaluate your workplace culture.
Do you cultivate individualism or teamwork? Collaboration or isolation? Do you value creativity or hard work? What are your thoughts on success and failure? How do you incentivize? How do you handle diversity? These all have an impact on the intensity of your team member’s Impostor Syndrome experience. As a leader, observe how your individual team members react to different aspects of your corporate culture, and make adjustments if needed.
4. Be Professional AND Relational
Be intentional about developing relationships with your team. Mentoring, social activities, and casual conversations are important to keep open communication. Be specific in praise. Link the praise to measurable corporate goals. Learn what truly motivates your team. Initiate conversations about Impostor Syndrome and this confidence cap. Avoid platitudes and hollow praise, most of which mean nothing to a person with Impostor Syndrome.
The Impostor Syndrome screams the loudest in times of change. These past 18+ months have ushered in more change than any one person should have to deal with. The condemning voice of “You don’t measure up!” is deafening but you can help turn down the volume. Leading your high achievers past their confidence cap will reap the rewards for you, your organization, and your entire industry. You’ll be saying goodbye to that skill gap.