Leadership is a filthy four-letter word

In which I battle my own imposter syndrome live, in person, for your amusement

I’ve been contemplating a dirty word lately, a word which sticks in my mouth at the thought of applying it to myself.


Ugh. Let me just grab a napkin so I don’t gag.

OK, I’m overplaying it a bit, but you get the idea, right?

In today’s post, I want to try and draw a little mental Venn diagram between two concepts, and look at how they overlap, with a view to understanding and evolving my thoughts on leadership. This is actually the second attempt at a post for today, but the first led me to this question:

Do you know of any public speakers with speech impediments?

I’m thinking specifically here about people with stammers, and I mean “proper” stammers, not just those who occasionally stutter or get tongue-tied as we all can from time to time. I know of one prominent person in my sphere who fits that bill, and I’ve watched, met, and edited podcast episodes featuring more. I’m not picking on stammerers, I just choose that as I think it better illustrates my point than someone, say, with a lisp… although if you have one, maybe this resonates.

Now, I can’t help but find the drive to present regularly with a noticeable stammer to be brave. I’m also aware that might be hugely condescending, especially as someone with a life-altering disability who likes to give talks on occasion, but where my lack of eyesight impacts my ability to present from a screen, nerves aside, I can usually speak fluidly… if a little too rapidly.

Whether or not it takes brass balls to be a public speaker with a speech impediment is probably irrelevant: the fact is that it is not actually all that uncommon. OK, so let’s park that thought and come on to the second circle in my Venn diagram.

Imposter syndrome

I’m not going to write about how you can overcome imposter syndrome, ‘cos that’s horse shit. No-one knows, and anyone who says they do is a charlatan. If you care about how others perceive you, you’ve probably faced it.

Mine stems from historical lack of self-worth, and while I’ve done the therapy to understand that I’m worthy of love and compassion regardless of how many 5-star iTunes reviews I get or don’t get, old habits, and old modes of thinking die hard. (I’m fine now, and I’ve got the stamp to prove it.)

I also won’t describe my own imposter syndrome, ‘cos again, you get it. So let’s connect these two concepts.

I’m contemplating something which will inevitably cast me in the role of leader, and that is scary. Not just the proving-of-authority thing, which is scary enough, but being someone that people want to follow, someone in whom others place their trust. And to me, that feels like being a public speaker with a stammer. Yes it’s not the norm, yes there’s a hindrance in place, but why does that have to be an immovable barrier?

Does speaking publicly on a topic you know well mean that you know everything about it, always have and always will, and nothing you say can be challenged? Nope.

Does being a leader mean you have to have all the answers right away? Clearly not.

Does having a stammer make it harder to speak extemporaneously? Yeah, probably.

Do you have to find ways to work with or though it? Maybe.

Does that mean you shouldn’t do it? No, but whether you do or not is up to you. It just doesn’t have to be a barrier if you wish it weren’t. Or wasn’t. I’m not sure.

I don’t want you to read the self-deprecation in this post and think I want to be some kind of aw shucks, I’m just doing my best kind of leader. I think I know where my leadership qualities come from, and they’re not necessarily from knowing all the answers, but from knowing how to get them, where to get them from, and from whom. I’m also old enough to know that there is more than one right answer to most questions in most lines of work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably never going to be able to think of myself as any kind of leader, of people or thoughts. But the work that I want to do in the next 5-10 years and beyond might mean I have to lead, and I guess I’m OK with that.

As ever, I hope my weird use of criss-crossing metaphors to describe something I’m going through is something you can take value from. If this sparks any thought, I’d love to read or hear it.

On a lighter note, today (Monday) is the first day of the limited-run series I’ve commissioned and am producing, called Todayful. It’s what we in the biz call original branded content, I guess. It’s a bit of soft-pedal advertising for my company’s recommitment to the British market, and something of a departure. Check it out, won’t you? It’s really funny… this one’s a bit dark actually. But, 2020.

I’m sure both you and I will be watching our respective news outlets closely this week, for different reasons. There’s going to be turmoil and lots of banging on desks and stamping of feet in the coming weeks, so I hope you’re able to find a bit of peace where you can.

During Lockdown Part I, I did a daily podcast to try and keep people company. Like this, much of it helped me work out my own stuff and be there for myself. I’m wondering whether it’s worth bringing it back, but I’m already about 50% over capacity as it is.

Anyway, enough ramble. Make the best week you can out of the next 7 days, and I’ll see you on the other side.