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Overcoming imposter syndrome through focusing on your strengths

Product Team
Product
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

19 November, 2021

James Engelbert
James Engelbert

Head of Product at BT

James Engelbert, Head of Product at BT, recalls when he had to battle imposter syndrome when managing a new team.

Problem

To begin with, whenever you're starting at a management level role, in the back of your mind, you're aware that the incumbent has a good understanding of the product itself and all the ins and outs. You're also thinking that people in your team have a lot more experience on the subject than you do, which is when it becomes tricky to manage your feelings.

Actions taken

I think it's essential to recognize the things you struggle with, things you're developing or simply not interested in. When I took the responsibility of a new team during the lockdown, it was especially challenging for me since I'm more used to working with people face to face and enjoy that interaction and collaboration. In my mind when taking on this new team I felt that I wasn't very useful, and was not equipped to manage this team.

Transparency with your manager is essential in helping manage ‘imposter syndrome,' in this situation I reflected on where I thought I was strong and areas which I think needed improvement. My manager and I talked about these and we agreed to focus more on improving the strengths while being aware of the blind spots.

This really helped me overcome the mental challenges in coping with managing the new team because they also shared their challenges as they were also in the same situation, we were able to tackle this together which made me feel supported.

There is a lot of stuff out there around the topic, which will also give you tips on how to master this very real issue facing product people. I think it's also important to be open with your team about the areas where you want to influence as well as where you are going to trust them to advise you. It's impossible to be a subject matter expert in everything so allowing your team to lead and educate you in areas you're not strong in builds trust and strong foundations for a healthy working relationship.

Lessons learned

  • It's completely normal to feel that you aren't fulfilling your duties properly or you aren't a fit for the role.
  • It can be helpful to listen to podcasts relating to imposter syndrome and reach out to a product forum because you can ultimately talk about the emotions you are going through.
  • It is imperative to have a community outside of your organization because feelings with imposter syndrome can isolate anybody.
  • Be open with your manager and your team, this can help build a strong relationship.

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