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Why every new leader should take Lupita Nyong’o’s advice

January 14, 2015, 7:35 PM UTC

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? is written by Gloria Larson, President of Bentley University.

Entering a leadership position for the first time can be terrifying. You may be filled with doubt as to whether or not you can handle the responsibility; you may wonder what you’re going to do when you have questions; how you’re going to impact those around you, and frankly, if you should be there at all.

At the Massachusetts Conference for Women, in December, we had the honor of hearing actress Lupita Nyong’o speak about her experiences. One thing she brought up that I think many of us entering a leadership role for the first time struggle with, is “imposter syndrome.” This is the feeling that no matter what you have accomplished, despite all tangible evidence to the contrary, you can’t acknowledge your own success or the fact that you deserve the praise you receive.

Lupita Nyong'oOscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o speaks at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston on December 4, 2014.Photograph by Elise Amendola — AP

So what’s the best way to overcome this feeling of self-doubt? Find a mentor. I never would have had the confidence to achieve success without a strong mentor and, perhaps even more importantly, without sponsored support. A recent study on preparedness commissioned by Bentley University emphasizes the importance of mentorship programs and women-specific networking events to help women succeed in business. In addition, recent research also shows that having someone in your company who can act as a sponsor, directly advocating for you in terms of career advancement, is especially effective. These mentors and sponsors are people you can turn to when you’re filled with doubt, and who will ultimately help you overcome it.

Very early in my career, I thrived with the support of a woman who held a presidential appointment at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a woman who had broken down barriers in the tough, male-dominated sector of Washington in the early 1980’s. As a commissioner at the FTC, Patricia Bailey not only served as a role model, but also encouraged (and assisted) me to move up in my profession – a main reason why I was able to take on significant leadership roles subsequently in my career. When you’re pursuing a leadership position, you need someone who can provide guidance as you take on that next big step. Surround yourself with supportive male and female colleagues who will encourage you to succeed.

And lastly, remember that you can’t always do it all…and that’s okay. There is a lot of discussion, particularly for those in leadership positions, about achieving a work/life balance and attempting to “have it all.” This creates a lot of unnecessary pressure and is just one more stress factor that can make you feel like a failure. Over time, you can do everything you set out to do. Just remember that it doesn’t have to happen all at once. My husband and I have figured out how to support each other in our various careers, family and civic endeavors, and activities — all while remembering to reserve some time for relaxation as well. We’ve been able to do so by supporting each other, and having the support of family and friends as well.

Entering a leadership role is a huge milestone in your career, and the process and challenges will not be the same for everyone. So, find a mentor or sponsor who will help guide you in times of need; remember never to be too hard on yourself; and above all, acknowledge that you are there because you earned it.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

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