Leaders have faced a challenge that has been around for centuries; leading and motivating other people toward a specific vision. To carry out this vision, employees will need to feel a sense of passion along with the leader in order to drive change. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the vision may have been clearly laid out, the path defined, staff and teams were bought in and aligned with their new tasks. It was not going to be an easy feat to get everyone on the same page within the time frame that had been agreed upon, but the team was ready, the outline was in place and goals were set. As an executive leadership coach, I have heard many leaders use the phrase “…And then Covid struck…” The healthcare industry, which is generally used to constant change was now transitioning at rates no one was used to and the physical and emotional adjustments that needed to be made because of the Covid-19 pandemic were not ones that could have been predicted.

What is imposter syndrome?

Very common among leaders, imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to people who feel a lack of adequacy in their level of courage, knowledge and direction they can provide in their position or current path. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the confidence in leaders who were once certain about their organizational objectives and the methods and strategies of which they would use in order to achieve those objectives. This phrase has become more common as the crisis continues to find new ways to challenge healthcare executives and their front line teams. The battle runs the gamut from figuring out a new way to care for patients, how best to communicate with and hear from employees, overcome financial barriers and keep the doors open to coming up with innovative ways to connect with the community and still be a trusted resource. Some leaders are also experiencing extreme crisis fatigue which leads to a feeling of defeat and lack the confidence they once had prior to March of 2020.

What are the causes for these leaders?

We call them leaders as they are the ones who find innovative ways to motivate others and bring teams together to achieve important goals. Healthcare leaders are strong, wise and are not afraid of change. They are innovative and creative; fighting for the rights of patients who deserve high quality care. These are leaders who have proven their strength and passion for improving the lives of people in our communities, our country, and our world. They have traveled near and far to advocate for change, to share best practices, and utilize technology that tears down barriers for improving specialty care. It is also these leaders who provide opportunities for their teams to collaborate and deepen knowledge of complex care management, organizational quality improvement and practice transformation. Unfortunately, these leaders have now put these achievements and successes on a shelf in order to put out the fires right in front of them. Some situations require an instantaneous response and no time to think through a comprehensive plan. Survival mode and reacting to each emergency as it comes up can sometimes halt the ability to view the situation from 30,000 feet and be strategic. “I am just going with my gut sometimes. I fear I will be found out as all eyes are on me on how I will handle this.”

How can leaders power through?

My clients are in leadership positions that range from middle management to C-Suite or those who aspire to be in a similar role someday. When I am in a session with any of these individuals, I leave their title at the door because above all else, they are a person who each has experienced something different in their personal and professional journey. These unique experiences bring out who they are and why they are who they are, this is key to understanding the path toward increasing self-confidence. Being able to articulate a challenge and the current barrier in front them can jostle similar instances from the past, successes they have had and creative new ideas to ignite for the future. Feelings of fraudulence will fade when the space is given to remember who you are and why you went into healthcare leadership to begin with.

What can leaders start doing right now to stop feeling like an imposter?

First, develop healthy habits. Taking care of your physical health is number one in keeping a clear head in order to think more strategically. Let’s not forget the irony of staying healthy during this pandemic in order to take care of others that work for you and those you serve in your community. Sit up straight, stand periodically throughout your work day, take a walk when you can and eat nutritious meals.

Second, keep it real. Acknowledge your mistake, learn from it and move on. Mistakes were made, you feel bad about making them and now is the time to see the lessons buried within those mistakes. Take time to review the high level outline of the situation; the actions that were taken and the outcome. In a second column, write out anything you learned or any benefit that resulted from each action or outcome. You may not have thought of those ‘lessons’ during the live situation and only looking back upon it now will you have the hindsight to see the important course that needed to happen in order to achieve the next step. What actions have you now taken because of that situation?

Third, remember who you are. Make a list of all of the events, situations, things and people that bring you delight and peace. This list may grow as the year goes on, so keep it visible on your desk or next to your bed. These will be your inspiration and motivation to keep striving towards joy in everything you do. Your successes that give you pride are where you will find nuggets of gold to use during your next challenge and can also demonstrate your strength and confidence. The things that bring you the most delight might be those times with family and friends; these will be your motivation and a reminder of who you are to others, how you show up, how you inspire.

Fourth, think small and ask for help. When there are problems or big challenges, our instinct is to fix it ourselves and try to repair the entire situation. I urge you to think of the problem in chunks or categories. Define the problem (work with others to help you and assure this is really the problem!). Map out the detail; first this happens, then this, then that, etc. Prioritize what piece of that process is the biggest challenge and bring a team together to work on that first. You may also want to create separate teams to focus on each category. These bite size chunks and teams will help divide and conquer to provide a more manageable way to concentrate on the bigger strategy. It will also be a reminder of the strong leader inside you.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given all of us a new taste of what it means to change on a dime. There continues to be ongoing shifts in care delivery models, plans for financial resilience, patient engagement strategies, and innovations to address social determinants of health. Healthcare leaders are relied upon more now than ever to demonstrate consistent communication, transparency and guidance for their employees, patients and communities. As you strive to implement a plan for others, do not forget to give yourself the space to be introspective, reflect on who you are inside and what gifts your past experience has given you in order to provide for the now and for the future. Start with these four steps to overcome imposter syndrome so you can see what we all see in you; a strong leader.