Episode 287

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In the agency space, we have to constantly be reinventing the wheel because everything keeps changing. By the nature of our business, we are always doing something for the first time which, by default, lends itself to having a nagging doubt now and then. In a world where it’s impossible to have all the answers, but also being a leader in an industry where you’re supposed to understand everything, it’s easy to fall victim to imposter syndrome. Fortunately, you are not alone and there are some fixes you can deploy.

Kris Kelso is here to help silence that nagging voice of doubt. An author and executive coach working mostly with entrepreneurs and doing leadership work, he has literally written the book on imposter syndrome. Kris’ book, Overcoming the Impostor is about silencing your inner critic so you can lead with confidence.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Kris and I discuss many aspects of imposter syndrome. We talk about its prevalence in high achievers and the underlying fear that it represents. We look at what it costs us as creative professionals and the many ways it can weaponize our gifts against us. And, perhaps most importantly, we’ll walk through some tangible reframing techniques that can quiet that inner critic.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

 Imposter syndrome

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why imposter syndrome is not gender based
  • The reason imposter syndrome is more prevalent in high achievers
  • The difference between self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • The underlying fear of imposter syndrome
  • What does imposter syndrome cost us?
  • The damage of “productive procrastination”
  • How imposter syndrome weaponizes our gifts against ourselves
  • How to quiet the inner critic
  • Helpful reframing techniques
“Everybody at some point experiences a level of imposter syndrome, it’s just a matter of how much and how often.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “It’s important to learn that the feeling of imposter syndrome is a sign that you are doing something good or something good is about to happen.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “Oftentimes, the thing that we hide or worry about is actually working in our favor.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “When you try to overcome your imposter syndrome by posing, you actually become an imposter.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “We don’t grow when there’s no stress.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet “If you’re a driven person, a high achiever who likes to climb the next mountain, you don’t want to go on autopilot so just go ahead and enjoy the next adventure.” @kriskelso Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Kris Kelso:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 3:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too. Welcome to Agency Management Institute, Build A Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-sized agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable and if you want, down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Thank you so much for coming back and joining us for another episode. If you are a regular listener, I think this particular topic for most of you is going to ring very true and hopefully be super helpful. If you are a brand new listener to the podcast. Welcome, and boy, you picked a great episode to jump in on for your first episode.

Drew McLellan:

So before we talk about my guest and what we’re going to talk about, I want to remind all of you that April 6th and 7th of this year, if you’re listening in real time, 2021, we are hosting a workshop called running your agency for growth and profit in Chicago. So it’s two days of really best practices and metrics that you can use to run the business of your business better. So we’re not going to teach you how to do SEO better or branding better, we know you’re good at that, what we know you’re hungry for is information of how to make more money and keep more of the money you make by running your business more efficiently and effectively, so that’s what we’re going to focus on.

Drew McLellan:

So we would love to have you join us at the workshop, again, April 6th and 7th. Yes, it’s live. No, there is not a virtual option, you can’t zoom in, it’s going to be live. We are capping it at a small number of people so that we have plenty of space in the room, we can social distance, so it’s going to be just fine from a safety perspective. If you are already traveling, if you’re already seeing clients, then this is probably perfectly appropriate for you. If you’re not ready to travel by car, train, plane, whatever yet, then the good news is we offer this workshop once a year, so you can join us in 2022.

Drew McLellan:

So if you’re ready, we’d love to have you, if you’re not ready, totally get it and we’ll catch you next year. So you can go to the AMI website, agencymanagementinstitute.com, click on the, how we help navigation and you’ll see a tab that says workshops and right there you’ll see, running your agency for growth and profit, and we would love to have you there. Okay?

Drew McLellan:

All right. Let me tell you a little bit about this episode. So my guest is a gentleman named Kris Kelso. And Kris just wrote a book called Overcoming The Impostor. Silence Your Inner Critic and Lead with Confidence. And so, as you might imagine, the whole book is about impostor syndrome. What’s interesting is based on Kris’ research and I certainly see this in my own experience, entrepreneurs and high achievers are particularly prone to have impostor syndrome. And when you think about it, that sounds odd because, while they’re high achiever or they’ve taken the risk of running their business, they must be super confident. But you know, in your own heart, that part of being an entrepreneur and part of being a high achiever is, that you’re constantly pushing your own boundaries, you’re doing new things.

Drew McLellan:

Certainly, in our space, in the agency space, we have to keep reinventing the wheel because everything keeps changing. And so, we didn’t have to understand TikTok three years ago, now we do. We didn’t have to know how to help a client get on Amazon Marketplace, but now we do. We didn’t have to understand messaging around pandemics or racial tension, but now we do. So by our nature we’re constantly doing things for the first time, which therefore by default tends to lend itself to us feeling like every once in a while, “Gosh, maybe, maybe I’m not, maybe I’m stretching too far. Maybe I have no business doing this. Maybe in this meeting with a prospect or a client, they’re going to figure out that I don’t have all the answers.” And that inner voice, that critic can really paralyze somebody.

Drew McLellan:

And I’ve seen that with some of you. And I think everybody. I think everybody has every once in a while that voice or that feeling in their stomach of, “Oh, I’m about to fall on my face, or this doesn’t feel… I don’t feel as confident as I am exuding on the outside. On the inside I am freaking out.” And so, Kris’ book talks about all of that. And what we can do about it, where it comes from and how we can begin to quiet that voice down and to be able to march in without as much of that nagging, you don’t belong here kind of thing in our year.

Drew McLellan:

So I’m excited to talk to Kris and to learn from him what he has learned in the research of writing the book and for us to get some very practical tips on how to wrestle this to the ground. So, let’s jump into it.

Drew McLellan:

Kris, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Kris Kelso:

Thank you, Drew, so great to be here.

Drew McLellan:

So tell the listeners a little bit about how you came to study the topic of impostor syndrome and sort of your background of what got you to writing the book?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. So it’s been a journey for me. I have been an entrepreneur now for about 14 years. Founded two different companies and ran those over a 10 or 11 year period. And then for the last three to four years, I’ve been working as an executive coach mostly with entrepreneurs and doing leadership development work and some public speaking and things like that. And I have struggled with impostor syndrome at many points during my career, but didn’t really know what it was called, hadn’t heard of it. Until just about four, three or four years ago. And when I started to read about it and learn about it, first of all, it really resonated with me. I saw, “Oh, okay, there’s a pattern that I’ve recognized that I’ve seen.” And it was a huge relief that it wasn’t just me and it wasn’t just in my head that it was a very common thing that a lot of people have dealt with even to the point that psychologists have studied it and categorized it and named it like that.

Kris Kelso:

And so, I got again to just talk to some people. First, very casually. In conversations with clients or other entrepreneurs. And I started to get some really interesting feedback that a lot of people… First of all, a lot of people were unaware, but once they learned about it, heard about it, they had kind of the same experience I did and it really resonated. And they said, “Oh, that’s that feeling that I felt. That’s that voice that I’ve heard in my head.” And so it started as conversation and then I wrote an article about it, which got a ton of visibility and a lot of feedback and really let me know that I had struck a nerve. And I started speaking about it at conferences and events and the more I would talk about it, the more things would happen.

Kris Kelso:

Like, people would come up to me and say, “You changed my life today. You made a difference. I can’t believe… The reason I was here, was I needed to hear that talk.” And so, after a little while, it just became really clear that there was a message and a lesson to be learned here that needed to be heard and wasn’t getting out there. I searched and looked for a book or some content specifically written to entrepreneurs about impostor syndrome. And I couldn’t find it. There’s been a lot written about women. There’s been a lot written about college students entering the workforce, but I couldn’t find something that really resonated with me and sort of my tribe, and so, it just sort of became a compulsion, I had to write this book.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. So, you mentioned women and college students. I think one of the… What I suspect you’re going to tell me is a misperception. One of the misperceptions about impostor syndrome is that it is gender based.

Kris Kelso:

Yes. Absolutely. The early research in the ’70s that was first done on impostor syndrome was all focused on women in the workforce. Women in a, quote, man’s world. Women trying to climb the corporate ladder and it was thought to be mostly a female problem. And then, eventually, some genius figured out that men can get insecure too, that men can have self doubt.

Drew McLellan:

I suspect just women are better at communicating it, which is why it was more identified with women in the beginning. And men are less skilled. Sometimes I think admitting their own insecurities or scary feelings. And so, the assumption was made that it was a woman thing versus men just don’t share that way.

Kris Kelso:

That’s exactly right. And further studies over the last couple of decades have shown that it happens equally among men and women, but women tend to be more willing to be honest about it. Women are more open about it. So it does skew female from a perception standpoint. But the reality is, men have those feelings of being an impostor too. We just tend to suppress them and pretend they don’t exist and try to fight through them and are unwilling to come out and say, “Yeah, I’ve struggled with some self doubt.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. And we could probably spend an hour talking about how little boys and little girls are treated different and how we communicate differently. But let’s just agree that this is a universal problem regardless of gender identification. Everybody sooner or later has a level of impostor syndrome, it’s just about how much and how often, right?

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. Yes. The studies that I’ve looked at say that, up to 70% of the population will feel this way at some point in their career. The most interesting thing though, that I found is that it tends to be more prevalent among high achievers. So the more ambitious you are, the more driven, the more innovative, the more you are self-motivated and pushing your own boundaries, the more likely you are to get into a situation where you feel like you might be a fraud, or you might be over your head. And on the surface, that seems counterintuitive, but when you really dig in and realize that that is part of the cause of it, is you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. You’re stretching yourself, you’re in-company with people who intimidate you or who you admire and maybe think you don’t quite measure up to. Those are some of the things that feed that impostor syndrome.

Kris Kelso:

And the truth is those are all good things. That’s a good sign and one of the things that I’ve learned in my own life and that I talk about a lot in the book, is learning to recognize impostor syndrome as a sign that I’m doing something good or that something good is about to happen.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, interesting. So here’s what I’m hearing you say, is that, among entrepreneurs and high achievers, we’re constantly doing things we’ve never done before. We’re climbing to new heights, we’re standing on a new ledge, and even for the most confidence, sometimes, standing on that new ledge you look down and go, “Oh, that’s a long way down. Maybe I don’t belong here.”

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. And maybe how did I get here?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Kris Kelso:

How did this happen to me? There’s a great quote from a CEO named Toby Thomas, who said that an entrepreneur is like a man riding on a lion, everyone around him is saying, “Wow, look at that guy, he’s so brave, that’s amazing. I wish I had the guts to do what he’s doing.” And yet, all the while the man on the lion is saying, “How in the world did I get on this lion? And how do I keep from being eaten by it?”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Kris Kelso:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yep. Yeah. I think everybody can relate to that for sure. Yep.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. There’ve been many times in my career that I’ve been given accolades or awards or verbal high-fives for the things that I’ve done as an entrepreneur. And usually in those moments, I’m not celebrating, I’m sort of freaking out a little bit on the inside, because what looks on the outside like this boldness of braveness feels to me like a series of near catastrophes. And I’m just figuring out my way through it along the way, but that outside perception is often very different from what’s going on the inside.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I suspect part of the problem is, we as entrepreneurs and business owners, in our case, with the listeners agency owners, we are selling our expertise. And so in our mind, we have to look to the outside world. Like we have our act together and we know what we’re talking about because that’s what we’re actually selling. So if we admit that we are a little unsure or we’re afraid, or we’re doing something as… And for us, it feels like a crazy experiment in our mind that does not solidify the trust and confidence that we want our employees or our clients or our prospects to have.

Kris Kelso:

Yes. One of the hardest things for people with impostor syndrome to do, is admit they don’t know something. To say, “I’m not sure what the answer is.” And in particular, when people are looking at us as the expert, when our employees are looking up to us, when our clients are looking to us, when we’re on a stage in front of an audience or on a podcast, and someone asks the question that you don’t know, you have that internal dialogue. Well, if I’m honest, it’s going to erode my credibility. So I have to come up with something that sounds like the right answer, that sounds intelligent.

Kris Kelso:

And the truth is, number one, people usually can see right through that. When you start to hem and haw and dance around it and try to come up with a smart sounding answer, people will see through that. But they also tend to really respect someone who says, “You know what? That’s a really good question and I don’t know the answer, but I bet we can figure that out. I bet there’s an answer out there and I’ll go pursue it.”

Kris Kelso:

And so, one of the mindset shifts that I talk about in the book, is flipping from, I have to have all the answers to I know how to get answers. I know how to find out things because there’s always going to be lots and lots of things I don’t know, even in my own domain of expertise. And so, there’s always going to be something I’m going to encounter new and I have to be comfortable with that and I have to be willing to say, “I don’t know. That’s a new one for me, but, hey, let’s figure that out. Let’s put the right team together and let’s do the research. Let’s go experiment. Let’s go try some things and fail at some things and figure it out.” And that’s the skill. That’s the expertise we need to really rest in, is the ability to get the answers not in having the answers.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think, certainly in the agency space and I know from my friends who own businesses, but they’re not agencies, the attitude really is when a client or a prospect asks you about something, or if your agency can do something, the adage is, you say yes in the meeting and on the way home, you think, “Oh my God, we have to figure out how to do that.” And there’s a very much, a fake it till you make it kind of attitude.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. Yeah. And I hate that phrase, fake it till you make it, because it really comes across very deceptive, but the truth is for creative people, especially, and a lot of people in advertising and marketing are very creative. When they say, “Yes, we can do that.” They’re not saying, “Yes, I know exactly how I’m going to do that.” They’re saying, “Yes, we have the skills to figure that out.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It gets back to your earlier point, which is, you don’t have to say you’ve got all the answers, but you have the confidence in yourself and your team that you will figure it out.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. So I had executive coach years ago in [Roger Hall 00:16:57], and he was a PhD psychologist that worked with a lot of business owners, still works with a lot of business owners and he taught me about the difference between self-esteem and self-efficacy. And self-esteem is largely emotional. It’s a feeling of confidence. It’s, I believe in myself. And the problem is emotions can be very fickle. Emotions are easily manipulated, right?

Kris Kelso:

Self-Efficacy on the other hand is based on a factual analysis of your track record and what you’re capable of. And not just that you’ve done the thing you’re attempting to do before, but that you’ve done so many other things before that give you the confidence that you can do the thing you’re about to do. And this lesson was in a particularly challenging time in my career when I was making a pivot myself and I was shifting to something new, and I just, honestly, wasn’t sure if I could do it. And what he helped me realize is, I’ve done a thousand things for the first time in my life and my career. Right? And my career has been full of first times. And in fact, every time I’ve ever done something meaningful for the first time, it was always proceeded by the same thing, which was a lack of experience.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right. Of course. Like a [inaudible 00:18:20].

Kris Kelso:

So I had to really come to the conclusion that, what I’m attempting to do, I can be successful at it, not because I’ve done it before, but because I’ve been so successful at so many other things that I’ve attempted. And in the marketing space, it’s the same situation, right? A client says, “We want to do X, or we want to try this thing that’s new.” And you say, “Well, okay, we’ve never done that, but we’ve done a million things for the first time and been successful.” It doesn’t mean it’s been a hundred percent successful. It doesn’t mean that any failure in your past disqualifies you, but you’ve been able to figure those things out before and so you can confidently say, “Yes, we can.” Without feeling like, “I’m lying, I’m deceiving, I’m faking it.”

Kris Kelso:

You’re not faking it. You’re saying we have the skills to figure that out and we’re going to go tackle it, right our way.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And you know the marketing and advertising industry, I think is sort of ripe for this because it’s our job to keep coming up with new things and new channels and new ways to communicate. And so, by default, if we’re doing our job well, most days we’re doing something for the first time. And so, you can see how people in our space could get really quagmired in impostor syndrome. I know in the book you talk about the fact that there is an underlying fear behind impostor syndrome. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Kris Kelso:

Yeah. The basic fear behind impostor syndrome is that one of these days, somebody is going to figure out and realize that you have just been making it up as you go. That you don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re just sort of learning on the fly and figuring this thing out. And that when that happens, the jig is up. And you’re going to be exposed as a fraud, which as we’ve already talked about it doesn’t mean that you’re a fraud because you’re always figuring out things new. The famous author, Maya Angelou, right? Well-Known, written a lot of very successful books after she had written something like 11 books, she was doing an interview and she said, “Yeah, every time I publish a new book, I think, this is the one, the jig is going to be up, they’re going to figure out that I actually don’t have any idea what I’m doing. That I’ve just gotten lucky 10 times and this one, there everybody’s just going to throw their hands up and go, what were we thinking?” Right?

Kris Kelso:

So lots of people feel like they have been lucky or gotten by on, making it up and just happening to hit it right. And the truth is, that is what success looks like. Success is trying, sometimes failing, but learning from those failures and then continuing to succeed. And when people find that out, they don’t disrespect, they don’t doubt you. Often, they admire you even more. For me personally, the fact that I didn’t have a college degree and I was running a company I always try to hide that. I always worried if anybody finds out, I don’t have a degree here. You know, I’m sitting in a room full of MBAs, and if somebody figures out that I don’t have a degree, then they’re not going to listen to me. They’re going to discredit me, they’re going to doubt me, et cetera.

Kris Kelso:

And yet I found it to be the exact opposite. So often when people hear for the first time that I don’t have a college degr