12 May 2023

Mary Ethna Black: Imposter syndrome, and what to do about it

In the second blog of her seven-part series on being a climate-active non-executive director, Chapter Zero Fellow Dr Mary Ethna Black considers whether there is a climate leader imposter syndrome and what to do about it.

Mary Ethna Black

Chapter Zero Fellow

The most challenging aspect of leading change at board level is often the ‘people’ side, starting with some of the discussions we have inside our own heads – the ones that prevent us from taking action. We might call this ‘Climate Leader Imposter Syndrome.’ Here are some common concerns and how you might reframe them, in a ‘thought’ and ‘response’ format.

Thought: I am not an expert in climate change

Response: This is a journey, so consider yourself an emerging expert. All you need to know is where to find useful information, how to judiciously deploy this, and how to ask the right questions.

Thought: I am unprepared

Response: You are already better prepared than most. You are engaged with the topic, engaged with this blog, and have, I hope, signed up to Chapter Zero. The rest will follow.

Thought: I may generate antagonism and resistance

Response: You may indeed, but as a well-rounded NED, you already have a toolbox and prior experience to prevent this happening or deal with it when it arises. Apply the basic principles of change leadership.

Thought: I’m already ‘out there’ in terms of gender or diversity.

Response: I completely understand, having been ‘The (Token) Woman on the Committee’ myself. Climate and biodiversity is very linked to gender and diversity, so my best advice is to weave it in, and whatever you do, don’t apologise.

Thought: I don’t want to become the board ‘Climate Bore.’

Response: Who does? We know that single issue NEDs are rarely useful, we also know that issues around change require a whole of board and team effort, so your mission is really to enlist and promote board support, with facts, well rounded arguments, and positive examples.

No-one wants to demolish the climate or destroy biodiversity, but the responsibility for carbon reduction is often passed around or avoided. It can be unclear where responsibility lies (Individual? Government? Someone else?). Your first responsibility as a NED is to understand that you are responsible for guiding and influencing your organisation. Your second is to do something about it.

What do I do right now?

  1. If you have already joined Chapter Zero (it’s free), encourage at least one other board member to join too.
  2. Fill in the Chapter Zero Board Scorecard to help you assess where your board is currently at and help you identify the best questions to ask in the boardroom.
  3. Sign up to ‘Plans beyond pledges: a three-step impact programme for risk management and value creation in the boardroom’ - an in-person event series for Chapter Zero members.
  4. My next two-minute read will address inspiration and the power of positive stories. It will launch in late May

My next two-minute read will address inspiration and the power of positive stories. It will launch in June.

Mary Ethna Black

Chapter Zero Fellow

Mary Ethna Black is a medical doctor, tech entrepreneur and experienced NED. She is a Fellow of Chapter Zero.


Our “Fellow’s perspective” series

Our Fellow’s Perspective series shares the views and expertise of the climate and business leaders who are the Chapter Zero Fellows.

Read more about our Fellows

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