A friend recently took on a new leadership role in their organisation. The appointment struck me as an excellent decision; she brings many years of experience, has credibility in the field and is respected by the team she will lead. When I called to congratulate her, the first thing she said was ‘I have such huge shoes to fill.’ Her predecessor had, indeed, built a superb reputation in the role. And rightly so. Yet the very idea that my friend was expected to fill these shoes is, to me all about miscommunication and the language of our mindset; she had been asked to take on the role for what she can bring to it, not to emulate someone else’s success. ‘Bring your own shoes!’ I told her.
We set high expectations for ourselves; often to the point where failure is all but guaranteed. After all, if we fail we get to tell ourselves ‘See, I knew I couldn’t’ or ‘well surprise, surprise I messed that up again’. All this language provides ‘evidence’ for the imposter mindset and allows the story we tell ourselves to keep us going round in a cycle. The idea that we must fill the shoes of those who went before us is destructive and highly selective. We choose, of course, to want to fill the shoes of the inspirational, exceptional fore-runners. We become experts at remembering only those who have shone, never those who have, like us, been human and had as many challenges as victories.
Why would you want to fill someone else’s shoes? Be open to new shoes!
Whilst I am a great fan of motivational talks and writings, I am also aware, as a Coach, of the damaging way we can take our language and twist the way we interpret and process their messages. Comparing ourselves to others in a ‘I should have achieved that’ kind of language is never going to lead to motivation. In fact it is highly likely to cut off your hope and self-belief and feed only the negative messages you tell yourself. Learning from others, listening to their messages as an opportunity to change the way you do something is entirely beneficial. When I spend 20 minutes listening to podcasts by Brene Brown or Simon Sinek, I come away more determined than before to be the best I can be. I feel no envy of their achievements; only inspiration to keep raising my own game.
The original artwork on this Blog is by my friend and local artist and illustrator, Amanda Rose. You can connect with her on Instagram @AmandaRose6706
Taking on a role that was previously filled by someone else comes with a history. One of the best things you can do is learn the history. And then remember it is now history. You are not here to fill someone else’s shoes.
Ask some simple questions of the person who hired you, for example:
- What did my predecessor bring to this role that will add the most value for you if I make it my focus for now?
- Were there any processes you had put in place that you want us to continue?
- What was it about me that made you choose me for the role?
- What are you hoping I will bring to the role?
- How do you recommend I fill their shoes and also bring my own skills to the role?
Remind yourself that you were chosen for what you bring that, perhaps, is a whole new direction to the role. This was certainly the case for a client I’ve been working with. He has been asked to take on Chairmanship of his professional organisation for the next 18 months. It’s a big role with high visibility. The previous holder of the Chair was in the role for a long time and is an outstanding thought-leader. And so is my client; that is exactly why the Committee knew he’d be the right choice. As I said to him when we were discussing it ‘Do you think they want the Chairperson to succeed or fail?’ There is no way a role of this importance would be offered to someone who can’t, more than adequately, ‘fill those shoes.’
This is really about you questioning your own history
When you challenge the language you tell yourself, you can change the story you make into your truth. The very idea that you would need to emulate someone else, is about convincing yourself that you don’t have anything to bring to the role that is new. Perish the thought you might actually be better than your predecessor, that you might not want to fill their shoes. You wouldn’t dream of suggesting that you might have a better idea. That is the language of your imposter mindset and it does not serve you. It’s forcing you into filling all sorts of uncomfortable shoes.
How about changing this mindset approach? How about if you you consider what you bring to your role, your clients or team, without comparing it to what came before? If you look at the qualities and experience you bring and the answers to the questions I wrote above, that made you feel a bit uncomfortable? The results might surprise you. Pleasantly.
Go on. I dare you. Bring your own shoes.
If you’d like to book a one-to-one coaching session with me, to talk about how we can challenge your mindset you can book here