This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
I was recently invited by the World Economic Forum to attend their Annual Meeting of New Champions (Summer Davos) in Tianjin, China. I was chosen as a member of Global Shapers, a WEF affiliated group of leaders under 30 from around the world. Out of 450 applicants, 56 Shapers were given a spot at the meeting, and I was proud to represent my Edmonton hub, bringing a youth voice to the discussions.
When I arrived in China, I was blown away by the acumen of the delegates. I sat next to a co-founder of Airbnb, the chief information officer of The New York Times, people who had graced the cover of Forbes, and entrepreneurs I had seen on Oprah. I remember sitting in my hotel, reading through the impressive list of attendee biographies, in awe. And yet, when chatting at the conference, I often heard: "I'm not even sure why I'm here." The thought had certainly crossed my own mind, though I was sure these other accomplished delegates didn't feel the same way. But they did. The finance professionals were intrigued by the artists and the activists were enamoured by the entrepreneurs. No one seemed to fully embrace their own accomplishments.
In 1978, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term "imposter phenomenon" – being unable to internalize your own successes despite external evidence. From the conversations I observed in Tianjin, the phenomenon was in full force. So what's the secret to overcoming it? And how do young people, when face-to-face with established professionals, move past this nagging feeling to develop meaningful relationships and stand in their own power?
1. You were chosen for a reason.
We all have insecurities, and I will admit that elements of the phenomenon even circled around me when I sat down to write this article. Whether making a speech, interviewing an idol, taking on a new position, or in my example, attending a conference with world-class delegates – there is a reason you were selected. Someone looked at your accomplishments and credentials, then asked you to sit at their table. So take your seat with pride. When chosen to do a job, take comfort in remembering that someone else has already believed you were capable.
2. Other people feel just like you.
No one, regardless of their position, is immune to fear. Successful people find ways to push past it and be present anyway. They think about what they want to accomplish and why, then charge ahead. My community of fellow Shapers in China were inspiring – boldly stepping forward to shine, despite lurking doubt. Though every person is just a person, the people you choose to surround yourself with do matter. Why not be lifted up by examples of confidence and encouragement?
3. Don't make connections because you should.
In Tianjin, there were certain speakers that resonated with me. There were others that I listened to because of their acclaimed titles, while not particularly moved by their content. When the opportunity came to mingle with panelists afterward, I always felt like I was able to have better conversations (and sometimes build relationships) with the people who had moved me. On the other hand, every time I told myself that I should talk to someone because of their importance, the conversations lacked authenticity. I was trying to prove myself as worthy instead of simply being myself.
Stop for a minute. If you are connecting with someone because you genuinely want to, proceed. If you are approaching someone because you think you should, be aware of your reasoning.
4. Speak to a person, not to their nametag.
Halfway through my conference week, I decided to do an experiment. When meeting someone new, I made a point of starting a real conversation before I glanced at their nametag. I would ask them their thoughts on a presentation, follow up on a comment I heard them raise, or ask them how they were finding the conference. By the time I allowed myself to look at their nametag, I knew more about them than just their title. People were more than their jobs. If we did end up talking about business later on, the conversations always seemed more genuine. The experiment allowed me to push past any imposter feelings too, by connecting first on a human level, where no one is an imposter.
5. Embrace your youth.
Established professionals remember the start of their careers. If you take the time to connect and share, they may even see parts of themselves in your experiences. The Shapers who were invited to Tianjin were there because organizations wanted to hear the perspectives of a younger generation. Millennials hold value because we have new ideas and ways of doing things that set us apart. Hold yourself to your own benchmarks; no one is really comparing you. They are interested in what your unique differences can bring – if you are brave enough to share them.
Erica Viegas (@ericaviegas) is an award winning singer-songwriter, communications consultant, writer, and fundraiser. She is completing a master of public relations and corporate communication at New York University.