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  • Writer's pictureEileen Smith

3 ways to kick imposter syndrome after getting promoted and show that you belong at the top

Updated: Feb 18, 2023 3 ways to kick imposter syndrome after getting promoted and show that you belong at the top

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Eileen Smith Nov 11, 2021, 10:13 AM

  • Eileen Smith coaches executives and rising professionals in public speaking and executive presence.

  • She says when you get promoted you have to act like you're a leader now — here's how.

  • Own your new responsibilities, don't be afraid to delegate, and revisit your relationships.

Congratulations! You earned that promotion and moved up to the big leagues. Now it's time to act like it.

After years of working your way up, making your boss look good, and implementing other people's ideas, it can be a challenge to step up and treat other executives as equals when you once looked up to them. Likewise, it may be hard for them to respect your authority in your new role if you continue to treat them as your superior.

One of my favorite clients is an absolute rock star. She's smart, talented, well-spoken, and projects an impressive executive presence. However, when she sent me a video of a speech to analyze, I was dismayed to see that after delivering her inspiring words, she fell back into the role of a staffer. The emcee was still making closing remarks, and before the audience could finish their applause my client was shuffling her papers, straightening water bottles at the table, and packing her bag.

When I raised this with her, she laughed at the realization that she was simply doing what she had always done. She said she needed to absorb her new reality that she was now the speaker in the top slot, the draw that brought in the audience. As a result, she made a change by deciding to always bring someone from her office along to big events and daily meetings. This way, her team member gained exposure to the activities and participants — and was there to serve in the staffer role that my client formerly held.

Here's how to establish yourself with new authority.

Own your new role — don't let others own it for you Don't lean on your boss for authority anymore. Instead, take proud ownership of your initiatives as you swing them into action. Frame your recommendations in terms of what's best for the whole organization, not just you or your group.

When you sit at the conference table, sit where the people of your new rank sit. Don't stay back with your old peers where you feel comfortable. "When you're new to a role, it's especially important to come over-prepared and with a perspective to share in meetings," Hillary Komma, strategy and engagement director of consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, told Insider. "This will help you stand out to new peers and leaders."

If you put forward an idea and other people start taking ownership of it, it's great to have them on board, but state out loud that the idea is yours. You can say, "When I thought of this idea, I felt good that it would work for the whole team. Thanks for your support." "We've all seen people who are pushy in this circumstance or only manage up," Elizabeth Coffin, vice president of corporate and commercial government relations at Raytheon Technologies, told Insider. "Know what you know and assert it confidently. Identify what you need to learn and seek that knowledge. Avoid bluster because your peers will see through it."

When you're new to an organization, it may be best to begin your leadership job in a listening role. Your first few weeks are the time to learn how things are done and why so you can add value rather than reinventing the wheel. However, when you've been promoted within your organization, you likely already have this information. Now's the time to introduce your new initiatives, build coalitions, and lead your team to achieve company-wide goals.

Learn to let go and delegate It can be difficult to decide what to remove from your plate while you pile on your new responsibilities. The first step is to sit down with your new number two and actively decide who will do what.

Not only will this help you define your priorities, it may also bolster your relationship with your direct report. They're probably also feeling their way through this new relationship and wishing you would stop doing your old job so they can own it.

"I try to give the person I'm delegating to the opportunity to 'own' something they didn't previously have responsibility for," Justin Weissert, vice president of professional services at cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, told Insider. "As a leader, I don't want to take the successes on myself. I want to find ways to give those opportunities and requisite successes to my team."

Also, set strategic goals for yourself and write them down. "When taking on new roles, I have found it useful to create a personal '100-day plan' that lays out milestones that focus on learning the new responsibilities and creating impactful wins for my new team," Komma said. Mark a recurring monthly appointment with yourself on your calendar to review your progress toward those goals and make changes to your approach as necessary.

Reset your relationships Just as you would if you were starting at a new organization, reach out to your new peers and invite them to coffee or lunch. Ask them about their goals and challenges and how your teams can be helpful to each other. "As I've taken on a dozen different positions at Booz Allen over nearly 20 years, I've found the most valuable aspect in success is keeping my internal network warm. It could be as simple as recognizing a colleague's milestone anniversary at the company, congratulating them on a recent media article, or seeking out mentoring advice," Komma said.

Among your own team, "The holy grail of a great work environment is trust," Coffin said. "The best boss I ever had was one we could go to first when mistakes were made. We all knew he would help, not criticize or demean. It was an unbelievable confidence-builder." If you have imposter syndrome and are still amazed you've been promoted to this level, remember that almost everyone who's risen to a leadership position has at one point looked around the room and asked themselves, "Wait, am I the adult now?"

"Moving to the big leagues in my current role simply meant embracing that while I may not have it all figured out, the majority of the people in my same position are feeling the same way," Weissert said.

Eileen Smith is a public speaking coach, author, and keynote speaker. Find her tips to help business executives, policy experts, and rising professionals achieve preparation, confidence, and career success at

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