Ever felt like your success was simply fooling people into thinking you were good at your job? If the answer is yes, you may suffer from imposter syndrome, especially if you’re a full-time executive or fractional executive. However, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 70% of all people with imposter syndrome are in high-powered positions, and Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) are no different.
A CTO provides technological vision, leadership, and expertise to develop technical teams and build strategic roadmaps to guide the development of an organization’s products and services. A fractional Chief Technology Officer takes on the role on a part-time basis to help reduce costs and move companies forward.
CTOs and Fractional CTOs have the pressure of being both an expert in their field and a leader, which can be overwhelming, even to those with a strong track record of success. You might be worried about learning more about programming, project management, or product design. But there are ways to learn how to cure imposter syndrome as a CTO.
Imposter syndrome describes the feeling that you are not qualified for your job, despite evidence to the contrary. It’s when you persistently believe you’re not good enough, and eventually, you will be exposed as a fraud.
With the expectation to know various technical skills and carry leadership responsibilities, you may need more time to fulfill both roles effectively. Regardless of your achievements, self-doubt and fear can derail your efforts to accomplish positive outcomes. You may fear others will judge or question your qualifications from your teams, within your organization, or field.
Imposter syndrome can create a ruminating false narrative that your efforts will end in adverse outcomes, especially when you’re starting as a CTO or fractional CTO. If you’re new to the role or looking to gain more traction in your field, imposter syndrome can create the need to overwork yourself or your teams to meet unrealistic high standards that you’ve put in place to compensate for feelings of inadequacy.
It can lead to burnout, low job performance, and job dissatisfaction. As a leader, it can affect the day-to-day operations of your teams if you saddle them with too much work. If you and your teams are overloaded and burnt out, symptoms related to stress can surface. Anxiety, lack of sleep, or frustration can cause people to disengage from unhappiness and decrease performance.
As a leader, this is the last scenario you want. Part of your role is to set up your teams for success. When your workforce is happy, they’ll perform at their best and deliver high-achieving results. You want to avoid sabotaging success due to imposter syndrome.
The first step toward overcoming imposter syndrome is to give yourself a break and fully understand it’s common. Here are six ways to toss those negative feelings out the window and set you on the path toward preserving the road to success:
A growth mindset is about focusing on ways to get better and overcome “Impostor syndrome: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s only a matter of time until everyone finds out.’ Growth mindset: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing yet. It’s only a matter of time until I figure it out.’ The highest form of self-confidence is believing in your ability to learn,” says Organizational Psychologist and Work Life podcast host Adam Grant.
When you focus on learning opportunities to strengthen your weaknesses, it redirects your focus from adverse outcomes. Mapping out your career intentions can help ground you and provide you with a list of learning opportunities to overcome fears related to self-perceived shortcomings.
A CTO’s role is to support and lead teams. Focusing on solutions for others is a way to deflect attention away from yourself and relax your negative thoughts while building your confidence and expertise.
Create connections with people that can help you in times of need. Whether you’re a full-time or fractional leader, you want to develop a vast network of powerful individual resources to help you solve problems and provide resources to your teams to achieve your goals and initiatives.
You want to build resources and create partners with problem-solving experts to support and drive your initiatives within your client organization. This can help ensure successful outcomes for your projects that will subdue the negative chatter in your mind from imposter syndrome.
Finding ways to delegate your weaknesses to others possessing the skill sets you lack is a strategy for positive outcomes. It allows you to leverage your strengths, which boosts your self-confidence and provides new growth opportunities among teams and yourself to learn.
For those struggling with imposter syndrome, becoming a CTO can be daunting. However, fractional CTO work is a great way to encounter a variety of problem-solving and growth opportunities to hone your expertise toward becoming a full-time leader.
CTOs are top contributors to the financial success of companies. Organizations constantly need to manage technology changes and provide solutions to innovate and maintain growth for short and long-term needs. Companies can’t afford the role to go vacant for too long, and fractional CTOs are excellent resources for filling gaps.
Both scenarios offer the opportunity to manage various challenges that will hone your ability to direct constant change. It’s also an excellent chance to provide much-needed value to companies. It’s also a way to leverage your existing technical expertise that landed you the job in the first place, while practicing your leadership skills part-time to build confidence.
Some of the benefits of fractional CTO work include:
Working as a fractional CTO allows you to tackle the issues that will inevitably arise in organizations going through changes at a reduced cost. The problems you solve will help reduce your imposter syndrome and provide you with confidence-building success stories.
You can gain experience by putting your existing skills to work in new scenarios. For example, if you want to expand your expertise and knowledge to a new industry, fractional CTO work is an excellent way to make a change. It allows you to apply expanded assurance to your existing skills in areas where imposter syndrome can appear.
Leading and guiding teams through change requires a firm set of calm, confident, soft skills where the challenges can be ambiguous, which is a situation ripe for imposter syndrome. Particularly if you feel like you have the technical know-how but lack leadership experience, fractional CTO work is an excellent way to build relationships. You want to work with people who can offer support and mentorship as you hone your leadership soft skills and move your career forward.
How Do You Know if Fractional CTO Work is Right for You?
Suppose you’re looking to expand or hone your skillsets to challenge your imposter syndrome tendencies while creating greater flexibility and autonomy in your career. In that case, fractional CTO work might be a good fit for you. To decide whether or not fractional CTO work is right for you, the following is a short list of primary skills required to assess your abilities for the role:
If you’re an experienced developer, architect, or manager, you already have the skillset and a pretty good idea of what it takes to get the job done. You’ve worked on teams before and know how much effort is required to deliver high-quality products and services.
You must communicate clearly with developers, designers, and project managers to effectively accomplish project milestones and goals. So if this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, it may take some time and practice before you can do so effectively as a fractional CTO. To practice, focus on expanding your network to hone your communication skills, and look for small-scale projects you can lead.
If you have led technical teams and managed engineers, you can take your skill set to the next level as a fractional CTO. Fractional CTOs are c-level executives who can lead and guide teams to success, which requires the soft skills to manage people effectively. In addition to having technical know-how to perform or understand specific tasks, successful fractional leaders have the professional network and outreach to help hire the appropriate resources to fulfill the skills gaps within teams when necessary.
Working as a fractional CTO requires frequent communication with remote colleagues spread out worldwide, sometimes in different time zones. As such, it’s essential that your team members feel comfortable communicating with each other via Slack or another chat app without feeling like they need to be present in person at all times.
If you possess all of the above skill sets, exploring fractional CTO work is likely a good fit for you. Otherwise, it’s worth expanding your network and exploring small-scale project opportunities to build the skills you need and help quiet your imposter syndrome.
Remember, imposter syndrome doesn’t have to overpower you. If you’re starting your journey as a CTO or looking to break into the role in a fractional capacity, it’s a familiar feeling among high-achieving tech professionals. You can leverage it as fuel to grow your network and find the resources to develop your skills, particularly if you maintain a growth mindset with the willingness to learn.