I’d like to see companies and corporations transform the workplace invest in their employees’ growth by bringing in fresh perspective from coaches, consultants and trainers rather than adding greater layers of attorneys and HR. I’d also like for every employee to feel safe, supported, and fully autonomous in their position.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Dara.
Alicia Dara is a nationally recognized voice coach based in Seattle. She has helped thousands of people including CEO’s, Global VPs, Executive Directors and Presidential candidates break through blocks, find their voice, and put it to work. Her most popular group training is “Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women”, which helps women strengthen their voices, clarify their messaging, and push back against workplace sexism. Corporate clients include Microsoft (where she is a vendor), WeWork (where she is a vendor), Kimpton Hotels, Planned Parenthood, The Riveter, The Rivkin Center, Carhartt, and Premera. Private clients include the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Female Founders Alliance, and members of Amazon, Merrill Lynch, Seattle Trade Commission, Windermere, and Lake Partners. Alicia was born into a family of Grammy-award winning symphony musicians. She studied musical theater in New York City and is an AMDA grad. As a musician she has released 5 original solo records and 4 with her current band Diamondwolf. Her writings about public speaking and creativity have appeared in Lioness Magazine, Thrive Global, The Select 7, Medium, CoveyClub, The Write Life, and Daily OM. http://www.aliciadara.com/
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Myspecialty is strengthening women’s voices in the workplace. I have a theater and music background, and since I was a child I’ve performed onstage hundreds of times. I started teaching singing lessons when I was 20, and eventually my singing clients asked me to coach their presentations, talks, toasts and speeches. In the past decade I’ve coached CEO’s, Global VPs, Executive Directors and a Presidential candidate (someone you saw on TV in the 2019 election cycle). I also lead group coaching programs for Enterprise corporations and companies. My job has taken me into almost 200 workplaces, and I’ve gotten to work with many wonderful groups of women. I’m currently working on my first book about how women can find and grow their most powerful voice and put it to work.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Coaching a Presidential candidate was enlightening. I was hired to help them clarify their speech and develop vocal stamina, which are crucial skills for any public figure. I’ve worked with politicians’ voices before, but the demands of a Presidential campaign are intense, to say the least. I can’t tell you the Candidate’s name, because I signed a non-disclosure agreement. But I can tell you that they’re a sitting politician. And by the time a politician has leveled-up to a Presidential campaign, they’re completely surrounded by people: advisors, policy makers, trainers, consultants, and coaches like me. All those people have the same job: to keep the Candidate from making a public mistake that could cost them the Presidential nomination. The stakes couldn’t be higher. In short, the Candidate is NEVER allowed to speak directly about what’s on their mind. They’re completely bound by the rules of the game, which dictate that they MUST stick to the script. This realization changed the way I coach my clients. Now I encourage them to speak boldly and confidently, and to value their freedom to be spontaneous and experimental when expressing thoughts, ideas and opinions. All of us should enjoy this powerful freedom.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My practice is focused primarily on uplifting and strengthening women’s voices at work. I made this choice deliberately, because women (especially women of color) don’t yet have political, social and economic parity in this country. The solution is complex, and not easily solved. The piece that I work on is helping women find and grow their most powerful voice, which includes communication strategies, presence, and clear career objectives, as well as the sound and strength of the voice itself. It’s also about sharing the mic with women who have been marginalized and amplifying their voices so they can get due credit for their ideas and hard work. None of us are powerful until we all have power.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My clients teach me as much as I teach them. I work with many extraordinary immigrant women who have overcome enormous obstacles to come to America and follow their dreams of career success. From them I’ve learned that my previous definition of “grit” was completely wrong! These women have persevered through endless trials, but they’ve never lost faith in themselves. They’ve taught me to dig deeper into myself and stay focused on what truly matters. Perseverance, focus, dedication and faith in yourself make up my new gritty paradigm.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
For most people the feeling of Impostor Syndrome at work is simply that they don’t feel qualified to do the job. That may or may not be true according to their CV and the level of their skills and experience. But there are certain outlying factors that can affect this perception. When I work with a client who identifies as having Impostor Syndrome about their current role or the one they’re about to take on, the first thing I ask them is, “Do you REALLY want this?”. In other words, is this role something you chose, something you own, something you’ve been dreaming of? The dream might not fit the dreamer, in which case your chances of success could be lower in that role than one that you’ve been deliberately striving for. On the other hand, it might be that you can grow into that role and thrive there. So we take some time to sort that out. After that I take clients through a series of daily and weekly exercises that are designed to build lasting confidence and help them leave Impostor Syndrome behind for good.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
If we give into Impostor Syndrome it can have serious effects on our career. We might not speak up for presentations or promotions, fearing that our ideas won’t measure up. Over a lifetime that can cost us thousands, or even millions that we leave on the table because we don’t think we deserve it.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
Impostor Syndrome can color our perception of those around us, especially at work. We might believe that everyone else is smarter, faster, and more important that us. We see them getting recognition for their work and getting promoted. We might think we’ll never get there and give up trying.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
When I got my first major corporate coaching job my bio was included in an email listing of all the coaches and consultants who were going to work for the company that year. When I took a look at the others, I saw that many of them had degrees from Harvard, Yale or some other Ivy League school. I felt immediately intimidated, and unsure if I belonged in that group. I woke up shaking on my very first day of work, but I did a quick Power Mediation and steadied myself for the job head. I taught 2 Speech and Presentation workshops to big groups of women that day. I so enjoyed working with them that I forgot all about my Impostor Syndrome. At the end of the day a few of the women came up to me to chat. They told me that the previous coaches had all been “dry, boring academics”, and that my interactive workshop had been miles above any other training they’d had that year. That was my very last day of Impostor Syndrome!
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
As I mentioned in the story above, I’ve never had Impostor Syndrome since that day. Knowing that my skills and content stood out to a group that had been working with all kinds of experts for a year was very reassuring. Going forward I’ve learned to trust my instincts and stay open to feedback from clients, which is ultimately the best learning tool for any serious coach.
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Ask yourself: do I genuinely want this task/role/position? If the answer is yes, go to Step 2. If not, choose another option that gets you excited. One of my clients, a GM at a car company, was offered the role of Global VP but couldn’t get excited about it. She realized that the new role would require too much travel time away from her family, so she turned it down. A year later a VP position came up, and she was able to enjoy a salary hike while staying in her region.
- Make a list of skills/knowledge/resources that would help you feel more equipped to take on the task/role/position. One of my clients, a hardworking attorney, was offered a partnership at her law firm. She accepted right away but had “buyer’s remorse” for months before she figured out that she needed an Executive Coach to help her find more presence. Working on these things from the outside in actually helped her connect to her confidence from the inside out, and she is thriving in her new role.
- Create a list of trusted friends and/or colleagues that you can go to for feedback. Think of these people as your personal Board of Advocates and ask them to tell you what skills you need to improve. As a solo business owner I’ve always leaned on my own personal Board when things get lonely or rough. They’ve helped me stay sane and focus on building from my strengths.
- Work on clear communication. Once you move into a leadership position you’re expected to speak up and advocate for yourself and your team. I once worked with the Executive Director of a non-profit who called a day-long all-hands meeting for her organization and didn’t speak once during the entire 5 hours! No wonder her inbox was flooded with questions for the next 6 weeks; no one knew what she wanted or how to get it done.
- Resolve to stay open and coachable and keep building your skillset. People often think that high-level leaders are experts who are set in their ways. This is untrue! The best ones are constantly seeking out new ideas and fresh perspectives and learning new skills that they bring with them to everything they do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to see companies and corporations transform the workplace invest in their employees’ growth by bringing in fresh perspective from coaches, consultants and trainers (rather than adding greater layers of attorneys and HR). I’d also like for every employee to feel safe, supported, and fully autonomous in their position.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
There are three women whose careers I’ve followed closely. One of them is Moj Madara, the CEO of Beautycon. One is Christiane Amanpour, the journalist and TV anchor. One is Samantha Power, the academic and author. I often quote these women and use examples from their biographies to give my clients insight and perspective. Coffee with any of them would be a lifetime highlight.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can certainly follow me, but I give out the majority of my content to my monthly email list. Sign up on my website:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
My pleasure, thanks for having me!