top of page

Impostor Syndrome? Linear Thinking?

Let's talk about some of the mental fallacies in leadership with bfm 89.9 Raise Your Game Host Christine Wong in #Malaysia.


Original podcast link



Christine Wong

This is a podcast from BFM 89. 9, the business station. This is raise your game. I'm Christine Wong. Oftentimes, as leader, it's not just the physical or the physical obstacles that you have to jump over. A lot of the times, the problem is also kind of in your head. So here with me today is Larraine Chang, founder and CEO of Ascension Associates. To discuss a few mental obstacles viewers regularly encounter and how to deal with that.


00:35

Larraine Chang

Sure. Thanks for having me, Christine. So, first of all, for, um, all my new Malaysian audience, I'm from Hong Kong, so I'm not from Malaysia. I'm from Hong Kong. I'm the founder and CEO of Ascension Associates, where research, train, and coach leaders, uh, across Asia.


00:52

Christine Wong

Great. So, uh, speaking of coaching leaders, much like I said earlier, uh, there are a lot of problems and a lot of obstacles that leaders go through. But a lot of the time, uh, the problem is not necessarily on the surface. A lot of them are sort of in your head. Right? So tell me a little bit about the most common, uh, I suppose, like, mental fallacies that you'll see leaders encounter on a regular basis.


01:17

Larraine Chang

I see two, basically. Um, one of them is the problem of linear thinking, which we have just covered, um, in our pilot leadership development workshop. Um, because a lot of the time where people go and see, especially when they're in a situation where they need to put out fires, a lot of them have been kind of trained or put in a situation where they cannot think of anything else other than focusing and laser focusing on the problem right in front of their eyes. And most of the time, because of our training, especially deeply rooted in education system, a lot of times we only see, like, one person, it goes to two. So when we see a problem, the only solution we think is, like, oh, if it happens, it must be because of a that kind of, like, causation effect. And that kind of linear thinking actually give us more problems, rather than helping us to solve the problems or solve the problem for the short term, for the time being, but doesn't really get rid of entire things the longer term. Uh, and another mental fallacy which is more personal. And, uh, that's actually what we cover a lot of the times in executive coaching sessions. It's, um, what we call Imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is actually what we think that we are not good enough. We are fake. And hence, you might have actually heard of the phrase, pick it till you make it. But in our coaching sessions, in our workshops, we actually advocate our leaders. Work it till you make it, instead of, like, fake it till you make it. Because when you fake it till you make it, you know that you are impostered. You know that you're deceiving people. So that kind of, like, reinforce the entire thing. Uh, and it happens a lot in times during transitions or when people get promoted too early, or when people are very experienced, but they are thrown in situations where they have never faced before, so they don't have any past track record or past experiences to draw on. And then all of a sudden, you're asking them in a position to solve this problem in front of everybody. Right. And they are accountable. They are like these CEOs or C-1, like, very prolific. So what do they do? Right? So all of us are human beings. We would all go through emotions like, I don't know what to do. Fear, uncertain, anxious, worrisome. And that's just, like, very normal. But on top of that, if we actually don't understand what these mental fallacies do to us, it actually hinder a lot of the not just execution, but the development of these leaders.


Or listen to our podcast interview video below.


04:08

Christine Wong

Absolutely. I mean, uh, so you mentioned two of these sort of problems. You've got, uh, linear thinking and you got impostor syndrome. So maybe let's start with linear thinking first and sort of break that down a little bit. Uh, from your definition, it's sort of having those blinkers on, in a way. Uh, there, I think, is a thin line between being focused on a task and being blind to other solutions to the task as well. Right? So the, uh, problem, I think, with having blinders on is that you often aren't aware that they're on there. You often maybe don't think of yourself as a linear thinker. You don't realize that you're doing that. So how do you even identify the problem in the first place?


04:50

Larraine Chang

This is a very good question. And for me, it takes some practices, and sometimes you realize I'm also a victim of linear thinking sometimes. Nowadays, when I set up the litmus test, when I go experiment with my, um, coaching clients at that level, I just ask them to ask themselves, when I'm not there, um, with them all the time. Ask yourself the question of three. It's simple. For example, let, uh, me just give you, like, a very personal example. So, a few months ago, I had this shoulder pain, and it just won't go away. So I thought, oh, because I had shoulder pain before, I thought I would go back to my spine doctor because I thought it's because of the bad posture or whatever, like, sliding too much cell phone or whatever. Right? And then it's the same spine doctor. He treated me all right the last time, but then this time it's the same shoulder pain. But then he couldn't treat me. I exactly went back to him for three times, spent quite a bit of money, and social opinion, won't go away. And I have to stop to ask myself, like, call him. 1 second, it has been intensive treatment. I've been going back to him exactly for three times. Why is it still not working? Now, some of the times when people actually got so much into linear thinking, they would go and say, don't give up, keep trying. Keep working harder. And this is actually very common when especially when you're going through corporate innovation transformation projects, right? You just have to grind through, right? Grind till you own it. But then there are times where you need to set up the litmus test and say, this is actually not working. We have to stop and take a pause and see like, hey, this is actually where we're going to the mental health. And you're thinking, this is not working. What's happening? And so I just stopped myself and say, hold on 1 second. How come my spine doctor couldn't treat me this time? What is the real cause for me of having this shoulder pain out of nowhere? And then I realized because I was launching this, uh, regional, uh, wellbeing project, and then I realized I was actually going through a lot of stress because I don't know what the turnout is going to be. I was worried about the outcome. And a few days later after I woke up, I realized I got jaw pain. So it turns out I was so stressed, actually I was kind of like grinding my teeth real tight when I was sleeping. That's why I woke up and said just right about this area, like, my jaw is like, this is like, weird. And that helped me to understand hold on 1 second. My shoulder pain is just like extension of my jaw pain because I've been sleeping. I thought I was sleeping. I was, but I was treating my body as if I was being bitten up because I was in such a stressful mode. That's why my spine doctor with all his, like, you know, show on the medical bed and whatever treatment that he used to use on me didn't work.


08:03

Christine Wong

Mhm.


08:03

Larraine Chang

And so that was linear thinking. My doctor failed to treat me this time and actually failed to gain my trust further because he didn't actually go deep enough to ask me how have I been sleeping? What have been going on for even these few days, how's work? Because apparently my spine was fine. He thought that I was not okay. But actually there is an obvious symptom right in front of him because he said, uh, lorraine, your neck muscle is so tight I couldn't even twist your neck. Okay, not twist my neck, but you know what it is. But then he just stopped there. He didn't ask me what happened. And then that comment got me thinking, yeah, you're right. Why am I so tight? Oh, because I was actually stressed. So I was a doctor myself, I died off myself and then I got out of that.


08:58

Christine Wong

So I think what's interesting about this is that I think both in this particular anecdote, uh, right. Both you and the doctor essentially had the same fallacy of linear thinking. You kind of kept feeling, it has to be a spine thing. It has to be a spine thing. And he also did not, um or they did not, uh, afford you any more questions to look more into it, because they also assumed that it was the same problem as before or that it was an extension of the previous issue. So you know, I think the sort of takeaway from that is there's got to be a point where I think you have to determine what kind of wall you're up against that is stopping you from getting the result that you want, right? Are you completely looking in the wrong direction? Is it just a wall that you have to come back from like that? Sometimes you do have to sort of, um it sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes you have to know when to quit in order to move ahead.


09:51

Larraine Chang

Exactly what kind of baggage you need to leave behind totally so that you can move forward because you cannot just keep on walking with more and more rocks on your back. Mhm and the same thing is, and thank you so much, Christine for actually putting it out in that way I think it's actually the difficulty of looking at the same situation but with different angles with the fresh eyes. It sounds so cliche. Oh, let me have someone have a fresh eyes. But sometimes when that independent third party is not available for whatever reason, how do we as leaders enable ourselves and our team to see the same situation with fresh eyes? M with a new perspective, maybe the same problem this time, but different root causes mhm different root causes different solutions.


10:44

Christine Wong

Yeah.


10:44

Larraine Chang

And the linear thinking mental fallacy is because on top of that, especially with a lot of Asians grind till you own it, you don't give up. Uh, people are working harder, it's just because you haven't given enough hours. Then the sunk cost is higher, because now you're putting in the same solution. Imagine I just go back to the spinach every single day, uh m my neck and shoulder pain wouldn't go away but then I just keep on working hard and say, oh, it's just because something was wrong, whatever. But then if you look at it from a corporate perspective, that means actually we are throwing in more and more dollars into the same thing, but we're not getting any result out of it. It turns out you get frustrated, you get burnout and then the whole story.


11:31

Christine Wong

And I think it's also really difficult when you do put so much effort into solving a problem to admit that maybe you're going about it wrong. Honestly, it's difficult. It's embarrassing to admit that you've made a mistake or that you have uh, sunk resources into something that was not going to work. That is a difficult thing to adjust for sometimes and to admit to yourself and maybe to your colleagues or your peers or your supportiveness as well, to come out and be like, we actually sort of need to scrap this because this is not the right move.


12:00

Larraine Chang

It's definitely right.


12:01

Christine Wong

So I think that's why it's easier to fall into the linear thinking. You're thinking, because at least you think you're right.


12:08

Larraine Chang

Yeah. And then it goes back in the same imposter syndrome, because now you see the point where I'm trying to make, because the imposter syndrome is like, christine, I don't think I'm good enough, right? I can't solve this. So what do you do? Normally, the linear thinking tells you work harder, you overcompensate, but then you're not taking the step back, you're not having the space for yourself to see clearly what is really going on. Are we really not good enough? And by what standard? By whose judgment? What is good? What is the definition of good this time? Maybe this time definition of good is different. Ah, for a lot of agile coach out there they know what I mean. The definition of done is different every single time for different projects. So it's the same for leadership. You know, human beings are dynamic. We're not supposed to be monolithic. And same with my neck and shoulder pain the last time.


13:13

Christine Wong

Absolutely.


13:13

Larraine Chang

And in a way, it was also kind of like imposter syndrome, in a way, because why would I actually go so stressed and anxious to a point where I was, like, grinding my teeth and having jaw pain and then end up having second shoulder pain? Because that's something that actually I shouldn't be worried about in the first place. I could have just, like, sat down, meditate a little bit, just like just chill out and then go talk to my partners and go work it out.


13:40

Christine Wong

Yeah, I think that's, uh, something one of the solutions, but I think impostor syndrome is a very complicated beast as well. So we do have to take a short break for some messages, but, um, after that, I will continue speaking to Larraine Chang, founder and CEO of ascension associates, about the mental fallacies and leadership here on Raise Your Game on BFM 89. 9 You're listening to Raise Your Game. I'm Christine Wong, and I have Larraine chang, founder and CEO of ascension associates, on the line with me today. And we're talking about some mental fallacies in leadership. And before the break, we primarily touched on the idea of linear thinking, and now we're sort of moving into the second fallacy, uh, that Larraine, uh, highlighted before the break, which is impostor syndrome. Now, um, one thing I would love to delve into we were already kind of getting into a little bit before the break, but the first thing that I want to do, uh, is point out, uh, something that I find quite interesting. Um, when I said to a colleague of mine today that I was going to talk about impostor syndrome, he looked at me and went, okay, what is impostor syndrome? And I said, okay, well, the fact that you're asking means you don't feel it. Um, because it's something that is so, um, I think it's a more common problem than people think that it is. Number one, I think, um, that a lot of people assume that everyone else around them knows exactly what they're doing or feels that they have everything figured out. And I certainly don't think that is the case, and you can correct me on that if I'm wrong, but first of all, I think let's break down what exactly impostor syndrome is. How does it manifest, uh, in your thought process?


15:33

Larraine Chang

That is a good one. That is a good one, Christine. And you can see that actually, I'm just taking out my notes.


15:39

Christine Wong

Yes. For Alyssa, Chris, Larraine has just whipped out a heap of papers.


15:43

Larraine Chang

Yeah, exactly. It's actually a very tiny thing that I ducked up from my papers because exactly. In my coaching training school, we talk about coaching impostor syndrome. What exactly is it and why is it so common? So, if we talk about the very academic definition of it, it can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evidence success. But sometimes in what we see in the workplace is that, um, some people, they are really at a stage where they are not that, um, let's say, let me rephrase it, let's say they just got promoted to a certain point. They not absolutely ready for it, so they know they're not absolutely ready for it, but they don't know how to actually get this kind of feeling of inadequacy, of anxious anxiety to others. So they either overcompensate or they cover it up. So, impostor syndrome, like you said, it's actually a very complicated, um, thing, and it can be manifested in different ways. In different ways. Now, for people who have constant success, they might actually manifest in front of you as like a perfectionist, as a superhero, as an expert, or as a soloist. So for perfectionists, because even though that they have been having constant success, but they still feel that they are not good enough. So, m, they overcompensate by being, I need to be perfect in this. And sometimes when we're working in projects, I'm sure the audience listening to us will understand, oh, I can see some trace in there. But now, I'm not saying that every single person who exhibits traits of, uh, a, uh, profession is suffering from impostor syndrome, but that can be just like one weight of it. But m, if we're talking about professionals, it can be the fact that, for example, I need to be really good at this I need to make sure every single thing is perfect to my standard, so that I don't feel like inadequate. And mhm same thing for superhero, for soloists, for experts. And I think in our real cases, coaching senior leaders, especially when they are transitioning to a new role, when they got promoted, um, and they know that there are certain skill sets that they are not good enough, but they are thrown in a situation where they need to just grow up the sleeves and run with it. And that's like the scariest point for them, because they know that, oh, I'm not really good enough, despite my previous success, but my previous successes, and guaranteed me success in this role. So what I do right now and a lot of the times, especially in Asia, not, uh, every single senior person is willing to talk about these things, even with independent third parties or with other people. So that kind of also affects the entire thing of how they overcome this.


19:00

Christine Wong

Yeah, I think, first of all, one interesting note that you've mentioned is that sometimes with imposter syndrome is because you don't have a frame of reference for what success looks like in that position. Um, it's the kind of thing of if you had straight A's in school, you kind of have a rough idea that you're probably going to do well in university, because you have straight As in school, you at least have that basis of, I normally do well in school. And therefore but when you're entering, let's say, a new industry, a new job, a new position, even, uh, if you got a new promotion as well, and you've never been in that position of authority, you have nothing really to compare, um, your performance to, apart from other people's. And that level of comparison is not helpful to anyone. Because, like you said, people are people. We're not monolithic, and we certainly don't all work the same way. What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another one. So I think that's one thing. And then, um, the second thing that I love about, uh, that is, um, you mentioned that a big part of Impostor Syndrome is feeling like you didn't do enough. And it's like, enough is a wild word. I don't think it's physically possible to ever do, quote, unquote, enough for anything. Because what is that defined as? Uh, for some people? Uh, I think that's why there's this whole conversation now as well around quiet quitting and things like that, where it's like to a lot of people nowadays, um, uh, who are experiencing this sort of phenomenon, enough to them means they just do their job. They go to work and they do the nine to five, and then they come back home. And a lot of other people are arguing that it's certainly not enough. You have to go above and beyond. And at what point does that stop? When does above and beyond stop also. So I find that all fascinating. I think that all these sort of societal pressures and that feeling of I don't know what enough is, and I don't know what good is, and so can I be doing good enough if I don't know what the two are?


20:57

Larraine Chang

And sometimes now, let's not get into the quiet quitting, because with search business, I can tell you there's a lot of other stories.


21:05

Christine Wong

Yeah, it's a very complicated thing. I'm just saying, as an example of enough as a definition. Yeah.


21:12

Larraine Chang

But, um, I think with the societal pressure, the lack of frame, of reference, lack, um, of a sounding board, uh, all these values that we have to go above and beyond, especially for a lot of high achievers. We've seen. Um like what you said you just mentioned, the people with straight As in school, they have been kind of like i, uh, wouldn't say programmed, but in a way, it's really programmed to have to do everything good and perfect in every single arena. But what I'm trying to do is actually, we have coaching leaders and talk about this in leadership development workshop with our clients, is that we have to understand the biggest difference between the school and outside school is that in school, yes, it makes sense. You got straight As, you for sure guarantee a ticket to any school that you want. Right. You fix the Bs and the Cs, and then you guarantee you've got a scholarship of some sort. But when you leave school, it doesn't matter anymore. Just because you got straight A's in your sales KPI or whatever, you it doesn't guarantee promotion. It doesn't guarantee you that actually, as a people leader, you know what to do when you have kind of like, stumble upon a situation where you have never faced before. Right. Because as a senior leader, everything is becoming more and more fluid, more and more volatile, more and more dynamic. You just can't just go back to the closet and say, oh, let me go pull some old tricks, and then I'll be good.


22:44

Christine Wong

As you're saying that, life just gets more complicated as you get older, honestly.


22:49

Larraine Chang

And so we have to kind of understand, when we are overcoming this imposter syndrome, we have to understand what narrative are we focusing. Are we focusing on, um, the not good enough bit? Or are we focusing on how can I be good enough bit? And what does good enough look like for me and for others? And how do we find a consensus? In fact, I'm reading the book Effortless I'm just in the middle of finishing the last chapter. I think one of the good point is, let's say, for example, a lot of high achievers, and I used to be like that as well. We just love to have a long, longer and longer to-do list. But by the time I finish the school, finished the work, I'm, um, like, how can I have more to do than the beginning of the day? But then what Effortless is trying to say is, why don't we have, like, a done for the day list? What does that for? They look like because unless you retire and stop working? Our Todo list would never stop. Right? For example, I'm running a business. Unless, uh, I shut it down. I will have more to do. It's just a natural game of what we are in. So what is done for the day? What does good look like and what can I do? And this is actually what the wellbeing actually comes in. We have to actually take into the consideration of our well being when we are taking all this pressure. Especially we talk about imposter syndrome that I'm not good enough. Because the more negative thoughts that you're giving yourself, the less space you're creating yourself for embracing the positivity, the possibility, um, the ability to ask for help, to collaborate and to embrace new ideas that actually you know what? Maybe the solution is right in front of you. Just take my neck and shoulder pain as an example.


24:49

Christine Wong

Yeah, absolutely. Well, that actually about brings us to the end of our show. But thank you so much to Larraine for talking to me about some, um, mental fallacies and leadership today.


25:00

Larraine Chang

Thank you so much, Christine.


8 views0 comments
bottom of page