Why Not You? How Four Austin Tech Leaders Talk Down Imposter Syndrome

Transitioning into a leadership role often comes with looming self doubt. These four Austinite leaders suggest talking it out.
Written by Jenny Lyons-Cunha
August 12, 2022Updated: August 12, 2022

Rumblings of self-doubt, a gnawing sense of misplacement, the cloying feeling of having oversold one’s skills: Symptoms of imposter syndrome often threaten to paralyze capable professionals in their early days of leadership. Fortunately for emerging leaders in Austin tech, there are many ways to cauterize the debilitating wounds of imposterism. 

“Talking about it helped me feel less alone,” LoudCrowd Client Strategies Director Ashlee Johnson told Built In Austin. “Having honest conversations about imposter syndrome made me realize that those emotions come up for even the most tenured leaders.” 

Imposter syndrome — which is as likely to grip young start-up managers as Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and world leaders — is dogged. Many report feeling they’ve tricked supporters into trusting them, and the phenomenon is rarely soothed by professional achievements or external praise. To grapple with impostorism, leaders of all tenures must recognize the one-of-a-kind perspective they bring to their role. 

“Every leader starts out inexperienced and with fears,” SourceDay AP Product Support Manager Stefanie Lanehart said. She recommends taking time to step back and track the wins as they come. 

Brian Reid, chief revenue officer at Gotransverse, found relief in a conversation with his adviser: “When I wondered aloud to a mentor of mine, ‘Why would anyone follow me?’ he asked me, ‘Why not you?’” 

The question pushed Reid to battle back against his self-distrust and acknowledge the unique experience he brings to Gotransverse. Pushnami Director of Product Stacey Nava was on the same page. “Take a moment to be proud of yourself: You were offered this position because you have demonstrated the clear aptitude to execute as a leader.”

Whether through hard data or self-reflection, leaning into one’s distinctive merit as a leader is the key to challenging the cruel insecurities of imposter syndrome. As Nava suggests, leaders rarely become so by accident. Therein lies the chance to trust their instincts and forge a singular approach to leadership. 

“Be the boss you wish you had,” said Ashlee Johnson of LoudCrowd. “As a new leader, you have an opportunity to rewrite the playbook and make the role your own.” 

 

SourceDay team members on a boat
SourceDay

 

Stefanie Lanehart
AP Product Support Manager

 

SourceDay is a software company that provides a supplier collaboration engine designed to bring people, information and processes together — and modernize how companies work with their suppliers to make and ship orders on time. As a leader, AP Product Support Manager Stefanie Lanehart recommends starting to lead by listening. “The first couple months are great for information gathering and observing,” she said. “Find ways to track the changes you implement.” 

 

What were your main sources of insecurity when you first started out in a leadership position? What strategies did you find most helpful in dealing with them?

When I started out in leadership, I had no idea how I was going to be able to execute in all the areas of my new role. I felt there was so much still to learn about the team members, processes, products and services. 

I thought my lack of experience would lead to mistakes — one of my biggest fears. If I made too many mistakes, would my executive director have me replaced? What gave me relief from these initial fears was remembering that I had succeeded in the past, and that failure came with the package.

My plan wasn’t to make major changes within the first few weeks but to find a way to collaborate. I made my intentions and my investment in the team known. Cross-collaboration, process improvement for efficiencies and utilizing the existing talent were all a part of my focused plan.

 

What kinds of experiences helped you build your confidence in your early days as a leader? 

It was vital that I had mentors to turn to for guidance and advice. I faced situations that I was not sure how to handle, and there were naysayers within the team resistant to the changes that I implemented. 

My mentors at the time recommended that I approach these team members to get them to open up during a one-on-one session. I opened the conversation with: “What could I have done differently?” This allowed the team members to share candidly.

Knowledge was vital to helping me grow more confidence as a leader. I underwent leadership training for the first six months of my new role — which gave me exposure to different business models, leadership styles and principles.

Small wins early on are important to help gain momentum across the team and gain confidence as a new leader.”

 

What tips would you offer new leaders that might help them build self-confidence?

One of my mentors told me “leaders are readers.” We can benefit from the lessons of experienced leaders just by reading books they’ve written. 

Strategic planning and goal setting can be overwhelming as a leader. The goal can feel too big to obtain. Small wins early on are important to help gain momentum across the team and gain confidence as a new leader.

 

 

Pushnami team photo
Pushnami

 

Stacey Nava
Director of Product

 

Pushnami is an advertising and engagement platform that delivers messages through browser-based push notifications and email. Pushnami aims to empower web publishers to monetize and engage their subscribers while giving advertisers a way to reach new audiences. Asked to share advice for fledgling leaders, Director of Product Stacey Nava cautioned against comparing oneself to others. “When I changed my mindset from ‘I’m not as capable as this leader’ to ‘I can adopt certain qualities from this leader,’ I started to find my sense of self and identify actionable strategies for success.”

 

What were your main sources of insecurity when you first started out in a leadership position? What strategies did you find most helpful in dealing with them?

My desire to be an all-knowing leader with all the perfect answers. Comparing myself to previous department leaders or those with similar career trajectories led me down a slippery slope. 

 

What kinds of experiences helped you build your confidence in your early days as a leader? 

The quality I find most valuable in a leadership role is a willingness to teach and share knowledge. I am fortunate to lead a team that is eager to learn, ask questions and make suggestions for projects. 

I helped build my confidence in my early days of leadership by pausing to share relevant experiences and strategies. Explaining things from my perspective and opening the conversation to the team created a safe space where feedback was encouraged. Ultimately, empowering a team towards collective growth helps develop a stronger department.

Take the time to reflect and remind yourself that you are deserving of the opportunity — it will help you lead with clarity and confidence.”

 

What tips would you offer new leaders that might help them build self-confidence?

Take the time to reflect and remind yourself that you are deserving of the opportunity — it will help you lead with clarity and confidence.

 

 

LoudCrowd team photo on a pickleball court
LoudCrowd

 

Ashlee Johnson
Director, Client Strategies

 

LoudCrowd is a marketing tech company that strives to help brands market via their customers. LoudCrowd has designed tools based on the idea that customers sharing the brands they love on social media is a superior way to market. When it comes to leadership at the martech company, Client Strategies Director Ashlee Johnson champions an empathetic approach. “Try every day to be the type of leader or boss you would love to work for,” Johnson told Built In Austin. “Lean heavily on your community and find mentors who will give you transparent feedback and advice.” 

 

What were your main sources of insecurity when you first started out in a leadership position? What strategies did you find most helpful in dealing with them?

Defining success metrics and growth plans for team members was something that was very important — but daunting — when building my team. I found the LinkedIn community was especially helpful in sharing best practices for setting up new ways to measure individual contributor (IC) success. Conduct employee satisfaction surveys and have candid conversations with team members about their personal goals.

 

What kinds of experiences helped you build your confidence in your early days as a leader? 

I consulted with my previous leaders and other industry experts to not only get advice on the processes I’ve put in place but to vent about some of the challenges leaders face — and ask how they overcame them. 

Setting realistic, achievable goals is very important for building confidence as a leader and among your team. I’m not saying that your goals should be low-hanging fruit: There needs to be a challenge. But being realistic about what can actually be accomplished has led to much more success and fewer feelings of doubt and disappointment.

Celebrate yourself. Make sure you’re checking on your own mental health and celebrating your wins just as you do for your team.”

 

What tips would you offer new leaders that might help them build self-confidence?

Think of all of the wonderful examples of leadership you’ve personally experienced and bring that into your practice. Identify some bad examples of leadership and make it a point to not let those behaviors creep into your culture. 

You also have the opportunity to inspire and create positive experiences for your team members. It’s a big responsibility, and you will make mistakes. 

Finally, celebrate yourself. Make sure you’re checking on your own mental health and celebrating your wins just as you do for your team.

 

 

Brian Reid
Chief Revenue Officer

 

Gotransverse is a full-stack sub­scrip­tion and usage-based billing plat­form that was built for com­pa­nies who need high vol­ume and real-time rating. Founded by billing professionals, Gotransverse aims to offer an intelligent billing and subscription management platform that automates the subscription order-to-cash process. Reflecting on his first role as a leader, Chief Revenue Officer Brian Reid shared his strategy for leaning into his strengths. “At the time, I knew what it took to get things done within our company,” Reid said. “While I ultimately became a subject-matter expert on the tech, I started by focusing on bringing my value to the team instead of telling them how to do something they were infinitely more experienced at than I was.”

 

What were your main sources of insecurity when you first started out in a leadership position, and what strategies did you find most helpful in dealing with them?

Self-doubt is a significant source of insecurity. Exploring that doubt made me realize I had a lot to offer. I’ve been blessed in my past to have great leaders, great role models and excellent career experiences. I’ve learned many things that I hope I can pass on. 

 

What kinds of experiences helped you build your confidence in your early days as a leader? 

Focusing on small, near-term wins is essential to building confidence as a leader. One of the most influential leaders in my past told me: “Start by making sure everyone shares the same language.” It was so basic, it almost felt silly, but I certainly would have overlooked it. 

It was something I could achieve quickly before we tackled the big issues. Learning about personal subject-matter expertise also helped me feel comfortable and confident in my role.

Most people don’t fall into a leadership role: You are where you are because you’ve exhibited the qualities that your organization values.”

 

What tips would you offer new leaders that might help them build self-confidence?

You are in this position for a reason. Most people don’t fall into a leadership role: You are where you are because you’ve exhibited the qualities that your organization values. Talk to people who have been there. There’s no substitute for experience: Learn from those who have already been down your road. 

Avoid feeling like you need to have all the answers all the time. It’s okay to take input from the people around you, including those you lead. If you rush to answer, you may miss something. Finally, surround yourself with people who have diversity of thought and background — they will bring a perspective that you might not have.

 

 

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