I'm not an impostor and know exactly what I'm doing

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Collaborative agenda setting


"I really appreciate you helping me out," I said as I followed the industrial/organizational psychology expert to the coffee machine, seeking help with a feedback survey for my newly formed associate engagement program. "I've never done anything like this before, so I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing."

She looked incredulous. "I'm convinced you know exactly what you're doing," she said.

Her statement took me back to when I'd said something similar to my manager months before, when he'd asked for my thoughts on upcoming organizational changes. I'd said something like, "It makes perfect sense and aligns with the changes we've made already, so it seems like the natural end to your master plan!" He'd laughed, saying he wished he could claim that he'd foreseen the eventual outcome from the start and planned everything along the way. He taught me that while the future might be unknowable, making the best decision possible in each moment means the past is firmly in your control.

Promises, promises

This article from Harvard Business Review on Why Men Have More Help Getting to the C-Suite seriously ruffled my feathers when I read it the first time. It was this quote that did it:

"Women tend to provide and expect the developmental relationship be offered out of altruism and for the 'collective good' and often are uncomfortable with the notion of the quid pro quo, feeling that they can't control the future, so would rather not make promises they can't keep."

And just what exactly am I offering my manager to get ahead, HBR?!

I didn't figure out what type of promises they were referencing until I stood up in a room full of senior managers and said, "I'm going to form an associate engagement program, whether it has official sponsorship or not" and Associate Engagement Program went up under the official list of department programs for the fiscal year.

Prior to that meeting, I had explained to my manager how I had identified a problem and come up with potential ways to address it. The problem we faced was that our group had gotten so big so quickly that we didn't even know everyone in it anymore. And I believed I could help through an associate engagement program. In doing that, I was making an unspoken promise that I could design and implement such a program, even though I'd had no experience doing anything like it before. Because he believed in me, he became my sponsor, getting me a seat at that fiscal-year planning session. And I mean that literally. He had to bring in an extra chair.

With the support of the leadership team and input from fellow associates from departments across the company, I've been able to keep my promise. It's not perfect, but you don't have to have everything planned out to move forward—you just have to move.

Now, my challenge is to believe that I'm not an impostor, that I do know exactly what I'm doing. That includes collaborating with others, like that psychology expert whose feedback highlighted things I'd never otherwise consider. Her input made our survey exponentially more useful. And she reminded me that I can control the future. All I have to do is make the best decisions I can in this present moment to set the engagement program up for success.

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Allison is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer turned communications lead at Red Hat who is known for her enthusiastic speaking style and passion for helping other leaders inspire their teams.


Great read! I love it.

It's that kind of confidence that everyone needs to have. You recognized that something needed to be done and had the guts to say something about it. The results speak for themselves. Great article!

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