Have You Ever Felt Like a Fraud?
Peggy McIntosh lives under my bed. She has since September. She will not leave me alone thank god.
I participated in a webinar this week. It was hosted by three leaders of an organization that support leadership development. They have a book coming out in the new year and the purpose of the webinar was to promote the book.
The trio included two men and one woman. As is always the case with multi-speaker webinars, it was a dance to see who was going to speak, when to speak and what to say so that the whole delivery made sense. They did ok with the dance.
What I began to focus on during the session was not so much the content, but how each of the three speakers entered the dance conversation. Without exception the two men would enter by speaking directly to a point he wanted to make about the book and its data. No preamble. Also, without exception was the way the woman entered the dance conversation. Each time she began her comments with the same soft entry phrase “I just want to jump in here…”
The reason I noticed this difference is down to Peggy McIntosh. Peggy wrote a three-part paper (really it is a transcript of three presentations) titled Feeling Like a Fraud. Peggy begins with a story of attending a women’s leadership conference and witnessing seventeen women in a row address the plenary and every one of them began with a self-depreciating comment. She “heard” these openings as a kind of apology based on a feeling of illegitimacy when speaking in front of the other women. She branded these experiences “Feeling like a fraud.”
I have little hope of fully explaining Peggy’s work here. You would be better served reading her thoughts yourself. If you do read her three pieces, you will see that she started this exploration in 1985, then again with Part 2 in 1989 and then finishing Part 3 in 2000. Which means Peggy was breaking some ground and was way ahead of her time. My intention here is to bring her good work forward. Her three pieces reflect how she evolved her thinking, the challenges of feeling like a fraud and thoughts on how to use this fraudulent feeling for good.
A couple of points McIntosh makes that are worth amplifying:
- “The more hierarchical the activity or institution, and the higher up we go in it, the greater our feelings of fraudulence are likely to be.”
- “Most people receive messages from every side, throughout the culture, that they are not legitimate in places of authority…,”
I want to highlight Peggy’s work because in my experience, we have not made much progress on this challenge and she can still help us. In my work with clients, there is almost always some dose of feeling fraudulent. More so with women as Peggy noticed in 1985. Her ideas offer useful coaching for all of us who dance with fraudulent behavior and just want a rest from it all.
Have a great holiday season and my you also have the gift of wisdom hiding under your bed.