Phony, Fraud, Farce. . .or for real? Nonprofit Resources February 7, 2019

Phony, Fraud, Farce. . .or for real?

As a regular reader of the brilliant work of Joan Garry, I sometimes skim over articles and other times dive in deep. Of course, this has everything to do with what’s going on at the moment with any given nonprofit client, and how staff is weathering the good and bad times.

This week, for the first time in years, I recently felt (and still feel) some serious self-doubt in my ability to lead an organization through a tough time of transition. With years of experience, it’s interesting how just a few unbalanced incidents can throw me into this cycle of self-doubt. Discussing this with a friend the other day, he noted “we’re all faking it”. . . and I’ve heard this before. When you’re put in a position of leadership, you’re supposed to be sure. Be confident in your decisions. Be trusted. Be right. Be consistent. Pull it off no matter what. But in the middle of doing this, sometimes I look around and wonder why anyone thinks I know. I mean, I know, right? But not any more than anyone else, right? And what if I know – but I’m wrong? And what if the unhealthy behavior is mine? Or because of me? In the middle of all these thoughts of self-doubt, along comes an article with a name for this. IMPOSTER SYNDROME. The perfect article at the perfect time. Feeling like an imposter? Read on….

The New Executive Director Was a Fraud

Imposter Syndrome became a “thing” in 1978 thanks to two psychologists who described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”


  • Rely on the strengths and power of those around you. You are so not alone that sometimes you will wish you WERE alone. See all your varying stakeholders and colleagues (yes, colleagues) as a noisy, diverse and passionate village, each with an important role to play in the success of your organization.
  • Keep your eye on who you are serving at all times. Maybe you were a reluctant board chair, maybe you feel like the man behind the curtain. But people are counting on you. It’s all about the passion you feel for the mission and how the lives of those you serve will be better as a result of your work. You may feel like an imposter but that is not how you are seen. And it can’t be how you behave. Too much is riding on you.
  • Recognize the skills and attributes of your staff. Manage them with compassion and accountability in equal measure. Be transparent and authentic with both successes and challenges. Recognize that you are slightly more like a tribe than a staff.
  • See the board as a resource and a partner. Invest time in building a committed and diverse group. Be sure the expectations of board service are crystal clear so that every board member knows what success looks like and can aim for it. Identify the right partnership at the top and cultivate it like the critical relationship it is. Think of yourselves as co-pilots.
  • Hang on to the joy of being paid to make a difference. Be joyful about it. It’s contagious. And organizations that feel positive and joyful are the most effective ones. And on the bad days remember: Yes, it’s a hard and complicated job. The most rewarding jobs always are.

You can order Joan Garry’s book here:

Write a comment
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with all things Nonprofit Resources!

* indicates required
%d bloggers like this: