How might life be different if you didn’t doubt yourself?
What if you could walk into a room and feel like you belonged?
How would it feel to stand in front of a room full of people and present with 100% confidence?
These questions likely resonate with you, especially if you’ve ever experienced that nagging feeling of inadequacy despite your accomplishments. This phenomenon, known as Imposter Syndrome, affects many of us more than we realise. Imagine the impact of shedding this self-doubt and learning to manage it effectively. In this article, we’ll explore the universality of Imposter Syndrome, particularly among those who feel marginalised, and unveil strategies to overcome its limitations.
Imposter Syndrome: The Silent Struggle
Do you find it hard to speak up? Do you worry about what others think? Do you feel like a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before somebody taps you on the shoulder and finds out? If you’ve ever experienced these emotions, know that you’re far from alone. As an Executive Leadership Coach who has worked with hundreds of clients, I can assure you that such feelings are more prevalent than you might think. In fact, 7 out of 10 people experience Imposter Syndrome at least once in their careers. This phenomenon knows no boundaries, affecting anyone regardless of their expertise, status, or achievements.
The truth is, we just don’t talk about it!
Throughout my career, I’ve encountered countless talented, successful women in leadership roles who grapple with these feelings. Despite their undeniable achievements, a persistent inner voice tells them otherwise. They tirelessly chase perfection, isolate themselves, and undermine their accomplishments. However, this negative self-talk takes a toll on their mental well-being, relationships, and potential.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where individuals feel like a fraud and doubt their abilities despite ample evidence of their competence and accomplishments. The Inner Critic – that relentless critical voice that surfaces when we’re out of our comfort zones can wreak havoc on our self-esteem.
It can manifest as feelings of self-doubt when you embark on something new such as starting a new role or when you’re experiencing marginalisation. Whether you’re a woman working in a male-dominated environment, LGBTQ+ or a person of colour, it can make you question whether you’re good enough and feel like you don’t belong. Imposter Syndrome can also be triggered by failure or not meeting expectations and cause you to question your abilities. You may feel inadequate, and fear being exposed as incompetent or a phoney. This phenomenon isn’t limited to failure either; it can also emerge after success, making us question our own abilities. This could occur after completing a project, getting promoted or winning an award. You may undervalue your contributions or downplay your accomplishments, attributing any success to mere luck or chance and unworthy of attention or praise.
Whilst it may be a survival mechanism, it’s not always helpful. In fact, it is often keeping you safe by limiting your growth. By stopping you from taking a risk. Because of this, it can be a destructive pattern of thinking that can sabotage your success.
The 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome
What may surprise you is that Imposter Syndrome doesn’t manifest in a one-size-fits-all manner. There are distinct types, and you might recognise yourself in one or more of them:
Striving for perfection – if those high standards aren’t met, Imposter Syndrome kicks in! It leaves you plagued by self-doubt, questioning your competence and feeling like you’re not good enough, even after the smallest mistake.
You’re always trying to prove you can handle anything and measure up to others. You find it hard to say no and push yourself harder to prove your worth and seek validation from others.
The Natural Genius
You’re used to achieving things easily with little effort required – you’re a natural, however, when this doesn’t happen, you feel like you’ve failed. Your Imposter Syndrome rears its head and makes you feel like you’re not good enough.
You like to do things yourself otherwise it doesn’t count. You don’t like asking for help in case it’s perceived as a weakness or you’re not up to the job. It may mean you struggle on your own and overwork yourself.
You feel like you need to know it all and have all the answers – to be the expert. You fear being exposed as a fraud if you don’t know the answer or are missing important information.
Chances are, you’ve seen yourself in one or more of these descriptions or observed them in others.
The Impact of Imposter Syndrome on Leaders
Whether you’re The Perfectionist or The Soloist, Imposter Syndrome can take its toll. The constant fear of being perceived as not good enough and exposed as a fraud can be exhausting. It can cause people to push themselves, overwork, isolate from others and avoid asking for help. It can hinder personal and professional growth by not going for new opportunities, shying away from promotions, or simply not speaking up in meetings and voicing their ideas or opinions. Their Inner Critic can become so strong that it negatively impacts their confidence and self-esteem. Not only this but feeling unable to manage Imposter Syndrome can get in the way of feeling happy, calm, and confident in other areas of our lives too.
This was the case for one of my clients, who worked in a very male-dominated industry –
“I’d always found it quite hard to find my place in that environment. Women who were strong and vocal were often labelled ‘difficult’, while those who were quieter and gentler were written off as ‘ineffective’ – it felt like you just couldn’t win! I tended to second-guess myself a lot, always comparing my work to that of my colleagues and coming down quite harshly on myself.”
Just because it’s normal and most of us have (or will) experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in our lives, it doesn’t mean we should accept it and let it hold us back.
So, what can you do?
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome isn’t about eliminating it entirely; it’s about managing it to thrive. Here are some actionable strategies to help feel empowered and take control:
Managing Imposter Syndrome: Strategies for Leaders
Recognise and acknowledge your Inner Critic
For most people, our own inner voice can be our worst critic. Most of us have been listening to this negative voice for so long that we have accepted what it says is part of who we are. We think being anxious or struggling with confidence is simply our personality and it is the way it will always be. Ignoring it may seem like a good idea but often, this means it just gets louder! The first step is to acknowledge it and remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. Nothing is fixed. We are constantly in flux and have the power to change.
Naming your Inner Critic is one way that can help you fight back! It allows you to separate YOU from ‘the voice’. It gives you distance and allows you to assess the usefulness or truth of what this voice (the Inner Critic) is saying. Some people like to imagine their Inner Critic as a nosy neighbour, an unhelpful relative, or even a character from a film or book. I personally find that when my Inner Critic pops up and tells me I am going to fall flat on my face, I tell it: “Thank you (name), but I’ve got this.” (You might even see me put both my palms up in front of me as I imagine setting this boundary!)
Understanding who you are, what drives you and what makes you, YOU starts with understanding your values and identifying your strengths. If we can understand our core values and what really makes us tick, we’re going to be happier people and more principled leaders.
Not only this but the values you display as a leader will filter through to your whole team impacting performance, trust, and success.
Challenge your negative self-talk
When Imposter Syndrome kicks in, you need to interrupt your Inner Critic. Ask yourself what else might be true here or how else can I look at this? What would a close friend or ally tell me right now? What does the evidence say? One thing I always recommend to clients is to collect data and evidence of all they are doing and keep ALL positive feedback in a folder. This way, you can go back to it and review all the wonderful stories, feedback, awards, and kind words you’ve received. And if you don’t have any feedback, be brave and ask! In addition, journalling at the end of each day or week around what went well and what you’re grateful for will help quieten your Inner Critic and bring a more positive and compassionate voice into your mind.
Assess your expectations
Are you setting yourself realistic goals? Many clients I work with resonate with The Perfectionist. They have high standards and may set themselves unattainable goals in the need to be perfect. We work together to assess expectations and assumptions and let go of perfect, acknowledging that ‘good enough is good enough’.
I can always remember delivering a keynote to one group of leaders who said if they could go back, they’d tell their younger selves exactly that – that ‘good enough, is good enough’. They’d tell their younger self to be kind to themselves, be much less of a perfectionist and learn to say no more. This would (they said) have led to much more balance and all agreed that their success came from their insight, experience, fierce intelligence, and ability to connect to others (little of it came from that extra hour at their desks honing and perfecting!). Because of this, I always work with clients on setting smaller and more realistic goals, exploring how to prioritise and delegate to others, asking for help when needed and taking the time to celebrate the milestones along the way.
Invest in your support network
Make a point of reaching out to others regularly and invest in your support network. Whether it’s friends, peer support, a mentor or even through coaching, having a trusted thinking partner can help you to challenge your Inner Critic. They can help reframe your thinking and give you advice to help you navigate complex or challenging situations. They can also provide guidance and words of wisdom based on their own experience, allowing you to learn from their mistakes.
Managing Imposter Syndrome: Supporting Others
Encourage open communication and vulnerability
Asking for help can be perceived as a weakness by those with Imposter Syndrome. Encourage open communication and create an inclusive environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable. We know that Imposter Syndrome is common, but it isn’t talked about enough. Share your experiences of self-doubt or feeling like an Imposter to open up two-way communication. Be regular and specific with positive feedback too as poor feedback loops can fuel Imposter Syndrome further.
Providing support and guidance
Encourage your team to make decisions and take the lead but provide support to them when needed. Motivate them to build their network or even find a mentor or coach. This can be particularly helpful if they are navigating new challenges or would benefit from additional guidance. In addition, encouraging them to celebrate their strengths and allowing them to leverage them in their role can be hugely beneficial.
Recognise and celebrate success
Positive feedback and praise can help silence the Inner Critic. As a team, take time to give feedback, and celebrate effort, progress, and teamwork. Don’t leave it to reaching big milestones and achievements. Encourage team members to celebrate their own successes too.
As I said before, I don’t believe we can ever be free and cured of Imposter Syndrome. Learning how to recognise it and implementing some of these techniques, however, can help you stop it in its tracks.
How would life be different for you, if you could overcome these feelings, or learn to think differently?
If you’d like to learn more about managing Imposter Syndrome, you can access my free masterclass here. And if your organisation would like to find out more about my empowering keynotes and workshops, get in touch. I’d love to chat over a virtual coffee.