Sue Hawkes is a best-selling author, Certified EOS Implementer, and award-winning seminar leader. She is also the CEO of YESS! — her company that helps CEOs and their leadership teams succeed. Her most recent book, Chasing Perfection—Shatter the Illusion; Minimize Self-Doubt & Maximize Success, takes aim at the self-doubt that almost every business leader experiences. In the book, she unmasks the myths about imposter syndrome and provides encouragement and practices to help leaders everywhere maximize their success.
We sat down with Sue to talk about her book and her views of successful leadership. Here’s what she had to say.
Debunking Imposter Syndrome and Finding Real Success
Traction Tools: You tackle imposter syndrome head-on. What is imposter syndrome?
Sue Hawkes: Imposter syndrome is an actual syndrome that was discovered by two psychologists in the ‘70s. There was this notion that with great success comes greater doubt. So in effect, the more successful you are, the more you start to say, “I don’t know what I’m doing, I haven’t been here before. And because I haven’t been here before, I can’t rely on my experience and expertise. These are unchartered waters.” And so your doubt increases, and you get to the point where you feel like a fraud.
What they found was that 80 percent of successful people feel like a fraud. And I raise my hand every time I speak, and I say, “I’m one of them!” Being able to say that, even, lessens the experience and the duration of the period that you feel like a fraud..
It’s not a permanent thing, it comes and goes. It happens when you get in front of audiences or have opportunities that you suddenly find yourself saying, “Why do I have the answer?” It’s event- and expertise-driven. It doesn’t just show up at work—it shows up anywhere we haven’t been, where competency isn’t proven. And if you’re not feeling that, you have some false sense of confidence that’s not authentic.
In other words, the 20 percent who don’t feel like a fraud, they actually are the frauds.
TT: I expected this to be a book that gives step-by-step instructions for becoming a better leader. You do give practical advice, but it’s almost in the form of a memoir.
SH: Absolutely. There are many actionable practices between the book, the website, and the upcoming workbook. Because I work in the world of confidentiality, it limits what I can use for examples. And I’m really comfortable with people knowing that I’m a flawed human being.
I think it also lets people know that this is not just theory—I worked my way through these things, and I had to learn them one day at a time.
TT: You include spotlights on other leaders and their wisdom. Were you surprised by anything they shared?
SH: Yes and no. People are fascinating, which is why I love doing the people side of business. And the leaders in the book were all really vulnerable, willing to share their challenges—and their successes. That wasn’t surprising to me.
What was surprising was how each of us all came through some really, really big challenges. Things I wasn’t privy to. Rhoda Olsen had a son with drug addiction and sobriety issues, and all kinds of things—along with running a billion-dollar business. Roz Alford was also running a billion-dollar business. Her husband had cancer, she had cancer, she went on an international trip and her husband died while they were on the trip and she couldn’t get back home. Listening to this stuff my mind is blown.
No one who’s achieved greatness did it alone, or had an easy road. No one. And we look at their external success. What I found was that they have been brilliant through dark times, and they persevered when things were tough. And people who weren’t at that level of mastery would either give up or settle. Their paths were not at all the same, but their attitude was. They were optimistic, they were forward-looking, they were driven, and they were disciplined. They saw opportunity in the problems and challenges. And none of them said, “I did this, I’m self-made.” They said, “Without my network of support, I couldn’t have done it.”
TT: A lot of Chasing Perfection is for women leaders, from a woman leader’s perspective. What do you expect this book has for men who are leaders?
SH: I address that in the intro of the book. A few of the ten chapters are specifically written for women leaders, and if you’re a man with strong emotional intelligence, you’ll get it and make the connections, and it’s a non-issue.
We had many people edit the book and at least half or more were male. In addition, I was originally going to target women, but the men that read the early version encouraged me to broaden the focus to men, because they related to all the challenges in the book.
I intentionally used all women leaders in the book, because when I read leadership and business books, I consistently only see examples of male leaders as shining examples. I wanted the book to highlight women who’ve exemplified great success for everyone to relate to. Because I believe men can easily translate these examples, the same way women have always done.
TT: I mentioned that the book is for leaders, but you mentioned that imposter syndrome is common to all areas of life. So maybe you’d take issue that the book is exclusively for leaders?
SH: I think you’re spot on. When people ask who it’s written for, I say leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs, and those aspiring to be. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and she was as much a leader and influential as anyone else.
TT: You’re a Certified EOS Implementer, and you include some EOS tools in Chasing Perfection. How has EOS informed your approach to the issues you tackle in the book?
SH: My simple way of saying this when I’m talking about EOS and the book, is that EOS is the system to help you get what you want from your business. The practices in Chasing Perfection are the mechanism to help you become the leader you’ve always wanted to be.
TT: So considering all of the potential audience, what is your hope for your readers?
SH: You know, honestly, my hope is that they’re empowered and that they achieve peace, freedom, confidence, and a level of certainty of self that they’re looking for. That kind of presence in yourself that allows you to deal with whatever comes your way. And, I think, confidence in your ability to maximize success.
I think leadership is hard flipping work! You’re trying to influence and inspire people and touch a greater part of them that sometimes they’re asleep to.
One of my guiding philosophies in life is that fulfilled people don’t hurt anyone. So if I can be a leader who helps people to live that out more consistently—because, as my business partner used to say, “We all fall asleep and wake up to our greatness.” If we can keep people turned onto that, the world will be better. I want a world that works for everyone, and this is my avenue to do that.
TT: Thank you for your time, Sue, this has been a great conversation.
Are You Chasing Perfection?
Find out more about what it means to shatter the illusion of perfection, and how to maximize your success as a business leader. Get Chasing Perfection at Amazon.