Are You an Entrepreneur Imposter? I Don't Buy It
People constantly ask me which temperament is best suited to which work. I can make some generalizations about obvious mismatches. For example, asking a very reserved person to make hundreds of cold calls a day, or requiring someone who's a "conceptual" thinker to do the same task repeatedly and perfectly. But you cannot predict someone's brain type by his or her job, or vice versa. If you put 100 accountants in a room, you would come up with 100 different brain and character profiles, and a few of them would probably be quite astounding.
Early in my research I met a computer analyst named Jason who blew away any preconceived ideas I had about brains and careers. Jason was feeling restless, so I suggested he go back to school and take an advanced math class. He mumbled, "I don't do school, and I don't do math."
But he was a computer analyst! Jason explained that actually he did do math, but not the way everyone else does. He flunked math in high school because, even though he got the correct answers, he could not show how he got them. His teachers, convinced he was repeatedly cheating, failed him on every test. Jason dropped out of high school and did not go on to college. Without any education to speak of, he had started at his current company in a menial position but worked his way up as his skill with numbers had become apparent. Because of his unorthodox background, Jason was afraid he could never get a job anywhere else.
I took Jason for special testing, where he solved complicated statistical formulas rapidly and accurately using the right side of his brain. (You'll remember that it's the left side of the brain that is associated with logical thinking.) Jason provided correct answers again and again, but he had no idea how he got them. He did not use a pencil and paper. Somehow he accessed his intuition.
When Jason learned that he was 75% a conceptual thinker, he literally started to cry tears of relief. There was nothing "wrong" with him. In fact, I told him his profile represented an incredible gift, and that he should be proud of his abilities. After years of being told by teachers that he was a cheater and a faker, Jason was relieved to learn that actually he was perfectly suited to his job, just in an unusual way.
Deep down, many entrepreneurs feel insecure about their success. They attribute it to some factor other than their own talents and intelligence. They secretly wonder if they just got a lucky break, and their good fortune could vanish at any minute. There is even a term, the "imposter syndrome," to describe people who feel as if they have fooled everyone into overestimating their abilities. Underneath, they are afraid they are going to be "found out."
To this I say: phooey. You are perfect the way you are. You are successful because you are doing your job your way. It may not be the way other people do it, but if it is working for you, then don't question a good thing. Instead, I recommend putting your energy into self-awareness and understanding the real you. As Jeff Haden, my colleague at Inc.com, says in his article 12 Ways to Attack Any Challenge, "Be who you are [and] let others be who they are." He points out that you can't be anyone else--and the "cool thing is, they can't be you."
There is no single brain type of thinking preference that is synonymous with "entrepreneur." You can use your greatest thinking attribute, whatever it is, to be creative, to be a leader, to manage your company's money, to motivate your employees, and to be successful.
Here's what I mean:
• If you are largely an analytical thinker, you appreciate systems. Your natural strengths are being logical, rational, objective, factual, and skeptical.
• If you think in a structural way, you make sure solutions are workable. You are innately practical, methodical, specific, cautious, and thorough.
• Social thinkers involve other people in every situation. You are naturally sympathetic, caring, connected, socially aware, and intuitive about others. In our analytical and structural culture, social thinkers can be considered less intelligent and more emotional than others.
• If you're largely a conceptual thinker, you look at the big picture or the long-term view. You are by nature clever, imaginative, innovative, visionary, and intuitive about ideas. Some might think you're "out there."
Similarly, your behavioral attributes will also serve you well as an entrepreneur, whatever they are:
• If you are expressive, you're outgoing, gregarious, and spontaneous. If you're on the other end of the expressiveness spectrum, though, you are calm, quiet, and reserved.
• If you're assertive, you're also purposeful, driving, and direct. If you're not, you are probably easygoing, peacekeeping, and respectful.
• Are you flexible? Then you are likely accommodating, open-minded, and patient. If not, you are focused, have strong opinions, and stay on track.
Please notice that either end of the spectrum for each behavior is a perfectly fine way to be. I know words are powerful, so I am extremely careful to stay away from terms that sound judgmental. The opposite of expressive is not "uncommunicative." The opposite of assertive is not "wishy washy." The opposite of flexible is not "inflexible." These words have negative connotations and suggest that there is a better way to behave.
You got where you are by being who you are. You'll go far by accepting and understanding your authentic self, and encouraging others to do the same.
If you have questions for Dr. Browning, please ask them in the comments section below.