Working as a delivery manager for Made Tech for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), I’d never felt so content in a role. I relished being a servant leader working within agile frameworks, and enjoyed building relationships at the company and with clients. I was responsible for making sure we delivered in the open, communicating well, delivering value for money – and I loved it!
A step into the unknown…
As I started to explore my career progression opportunities after a year or so, I was presented with the option to move into the role of client principal. This was explained to me as effectively being the managing director of an account, ultimately responsible for quality, and building growth through the great work of our delivery teams, trust and great relationships.
What an opportunity! I was very flattered to be considered, but it was also a step into the unknown. “I love my job. I’m good at my job. What if I’m not any good at this new role?” With some gentle nudging from the leadership team at Made Tech, I understood that this could be a natural progression of my skills – so why not give it a go?
So I made the move and became client principal of the MoJ account.
Enter imposter syndrome
Getting started, the things I need to do sounded relatively simple:
- Research – read everything I could find, and join workshops and round tables events
- Expand my network – speak to new people, and understand who’s who at MoJ
- Spread the word about Made Tech – our mission, and the great work we’re doing both at the MoJ and in the public sector generally
- Investigate – uncover any other areas in the account that we could help with, and understanding MoJ’s procurement pipeline
Researching the account, reading and developing a deep understanding? No problem! But approaching senior civil servants – who might not have heard of Made Tech before – and leading an intro meeting? This felt brand new. Yes, I loved to connect with others, but so far I’d only done this with engaged clients as part of ongoing work. That was easy!
I felt suddenly overwhelmed with shyness and imposter syndrome. Why did the Made Tech leadership team think I could do this? What would I talk about? Why would a senior civil servant want to take time out of their day to speak to me?
My line manager reassured me (more than once) that I was embarking on a learning curve, and that this transition would take time. I was very honest with how I was feeling – like an imposter – and asked for mentoring. I wanted to speak to those in the company who were very used to the type of intro conversations I was beginning to book into my diary.
Conquering imposter syndrome
Joining MoJ events and doing a lot of reading about the challenges of the justice system started to build my confidence. I began to feel that I could engage in interesting conversations, and ask relevant questions. This was fascinating!
I admittedly knew little about the justice system before I joined Made Tech, and quickly I was reading about the role of technology in prisons, the challenges of rehabilitation and reducing re-offending. I even had a great conversation with a professor involved in high profile prisons projects such as introducing televisions into prison cells.
I had built up a lovely network of MoJ delivery leads from my time as a delivery manager, and I was very open with them about what I was trying to achieve as client principal. I’d have conversations about the MoJ pipeline from their point of view, and ask for recommendations of who they thought I should speak to.
This allowed me to stay in my comfort zone while also putting together the puzzle pieces of a large central government agency. It was also great practice to speak about areas I was less used to talking about – like the breadth of work that Made Tech have been doing, and how it might be relevant to the MoJ.
After a couple of months, I knew that I needed to connect with the service owners and senior leadership team, but still felt like an imposter. My line manager would urge: “You have a lot to offer and you must see yourself as an equal to the person you’re talking to.” I would repeat this mantra in my head.
To prepare for each meeting, I’d write some crib notes to help me guide the conversation. After each meeting, I’d revert to my delivery roots and conduct my own little retro in my head. How could that have gone better? Which parts would I do again? I’m a perfectionist by nature, and would be very hard on myself for those initial shy meetings where I knew I didn’t sound confident.
But practice makes perfect. Before long, I needed less prep before each meeting, and I found my stress levels much lower in the hours before. With consistent reading and research, I now often get into really interesting conversations that I wish could go on for hours – and I find this extremely rewarding.
Also, the more people I meet, the more I can draw from these conversations, and I see similarities in the things they care about, making them much easier and more enjoyable to be part of.
Personal life benefits
This journey in my first year as a client principal took me on an unexpected personal journey. In a way I had been hiding behind my delivery roles, a loyal servant leader and mentor, but never realising that my own self-esteem was pretty low.
I find now that in my personal life I’m more likely to stand by my own beliefs, and set clear boundaries for my own happiness. I see myself as an equal, with lots to offer those around me, and feel all the better for it. ?
If you struggle with imposter syndrome, and feel comfortable sharing with me, I’d love to chat through to see if I can offer any advice, or just be a sounding board if you want to share what you’re trying to achieve. Just drop me a line on LinkedIn if I can help.