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The real reason we fear SME Directorships

Declining a Directorship

When the suggestion of a Directorship in a small to medium-sized business was first put to me, I politely declined.

I’d been with the company for 4 years and been promoted twice. I’d embraced those earlier opportunities to learn, grow and take on additional responsibility and I’d delivered on my promises. Sales volume and gross margin had increased and I’d played a major part in developing a small local player into a national, award-winning brand.

So when the role most people strive for was offered to me personally by the company’s executive Chairman and Denplan Founder, Stephen Noar, why was it I wished we weren’t having this conversation!? What on earth was it that made me so uncomfortable about ‘sitting at the table’ alongside the colleagues I held in such high regard and already enjoyed such a positive working relationship with?

I’d often had feelings of self-doubt throughout my career and despite mounting external evidence to the contrary, I remained convinced that I didn’t deserve the success I’d achieved. I’d frequently dismiss my accomplishments as luck, good timing or a result of unwittingly deceiving others into thinking I was somehow more capable than I believed myself to be. The last thing I wanted to do was let down the company I was so passionate about growing or disappoint the entrepreneur I had come to see as a trusted mentor.

Exposed as a Fraud

It was Steve Noar who first introduced me to the concept of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and as soon as I had self-diagnosed, I set about trying to make sense of my newly labelled ‘condition’.

Imposter Syndrome (sometimes called Imposter Phenomenon or Fraud Syndrome) is a psychological complaint in which people (usually high-achieving women) are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It’s particularly common when switching companies, taking on additional responsibility or returning to work post-maternity leave. It can manifest itself in many different ways and to varying degrees. In my case, I had a genuine fear that I was about to be exposed as a fraud and this was now preventing me from reaping the rewards of all the grafting, investment and sacrifices made up to this point.

Think ‘Bright and Capable’

In ‘How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think you are’, Dr Valerie Young suggests 5 ways to overcome such insecurities:
  1. Be aware of what triggers these thoughts when they pop into your head and learn to identify them as unjustified
  2. Rethink your doubts and try to rewrite your internal negative narratives
  3. Discuss your doubts with someone you trust
  4. Look forward, not backward. Focus on how you might do things differently next time
  5. Be kind to yourself when you do mess up and reward yourself when you get something right

Investment in People

Whether it was intuition or analysis that caused Steve to pick up on my demons, by highlighting them, normalising them and supporting me to tackle them, both of us stood to gain. When I excitedly accepted the role of Sales and Marketing Director reporting into him, I maintained that both timing and the support of others had played a major part in my achievements and appointment. To this day, I still blush at compliments but I also feel able to take a large slice of the credit for my own accelerated career progression. I acknowledge that I have a strong work ethic and that I treat people well. I am able to admit that there have had to be significant mindset shifts, sacrifices, compromises and tough decisions along the way. I’ve juggled babies with bereavement and Board room agendas and now wholeheartedly believe I’m actually worthy of all the good stuff that has ‘been handed to me on a plate’.

It comes as no surprise that Britain’s most successful businesses are those that invest in their people. But it may surprise some to learn that this isn’t necessarily about supporting an employee to enhance their existing skill set or boosting their remuneration in recognition of meeting or exceeding financial targets.

I invite you to reflect on the psychological barriers your top performers may be consciously or unconsciously erecting in their paths and to consider how highlighting them, normalising them and tackling them may serve to benefit both the wellbeing of your committed performers and their subsequent impact on the bottom line.
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Lisa Barber

Lisa is a SME Sales and Marketing Mentor and founded Roots and Wings in June 2013. The company supports SME sales and marketing leaders to cut through the ‘noise’ and focus their time and energy where they will have the greatest impact. Lisa has Board level credentials within one of Hampshire’s most acclaimed SMEs, is a CMI-accredited Coach and Mentor and an ambassador for female sales and marketing leaders within small to medium-sized businesses.

Lisa Barber
About the Author

Lisa Barber

Lisa is a SME Sales and Marketing Mentor and founded Roots and Wings in June 2013.

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