LEADERS FACE IMPOSTER SYNDROME 2024-06-11T00:45:21-04:00


During this past week, I attended a webinar addressing “Imposter Syndrome.” Then I read about the origins of “Imposter Phenomenon” in a leadership book I am completing. Finally when I asked a coaching client Thursday what she wished to talk about this week, she said “Imposter Syndrome.”
Coincidence? Probably. However, I did not want to ignore this coincidence and thus am examining this often discussed and rarely understood concept today.

Did you know that Imposter Syndrome was not really a “thing” until the late 1970’s? The term “imposter syndrome” was first introduced in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their publication, The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” Clance, who had experienced imposter syndrome as a graduate student, originally called it a “phenomenon” rather than a “syndrome”.

As we know, imposter syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy often accompanied by self-doubt, perfectionism, and fear of failure. People experiencing imposter syndrome may also tend to minimize their own accomplishments or worry they will be exposed as frauds. Interestingly, men and women experience this syndrome in equal measure.

During the webinar I attended, which was led by Lisa Orbe-Austin, it was explained that imposter syndrome is often caused by early childhood experiences and can be preceded by people pleasing and conflict-avoiding behaviors through our adolescence and early adulthood. I know. That was me.
Feelings of imposter syndrome often reside close to the surface. They can be triggered by either an accomplishment (“I did not deserve that”) or a failure (“There I go again”).

Imposter syndrome can actually impact organizational loyalty – good team members who doubt their own abilities will stay around longer because they are working within their comfort zones or are poor self-advocates. In this sense, people can get stuck in a job or can lack confidence in their own opinions. They can prefer to work independently than work interdependently because their self-doubt may more easily rise to the surface when collaborating with teammates they perceive as competent and skilled.

Leaders who are afflicted with imposter syndrome – and 70% of us feel it from time to time or frequently – can address it by first acknowledging it – admitting it is an issue for them rather than ignoring it or striving to sweep it under the rug.

Then they can examine their narrative – what story have they built for themselves that supports the imposter syndrome? So frequently imposter syndrome is a story we have created for ourselves and then convinced ourselves that the story we created is the truth. When we do that, we adopt automatic negative thoughts and do not question their validity. They may very well be “external lies,” but we have already persuaded ourselves that they are true.

To address and effectively deal with imposter syndrome, we must adopt strategies that get at the causes. We need not enter into psychotherapy to address this phenomenon, but we cannot ignore it either. We need to engage in social-emotional self-care, and that includes building and sustaining a robust support network. We must learn to take calculated risks, to create internal security for ourselves, to review the tools available to us for enhancing self-esteem, and to ask for help.

We can acknowledge this tendency, see it coming, welcome it back with a laugh and rueful smile, then not allow it to control our mind. As I wrote about several weeks ago, we can move it from subject to object.

Some proven strategies for addressing imposter syndrome include:

-Shift your focus from self-obsession to self-awareness

-Take your mind off yourself to focus on the other person

-Express your self-doubt to trusted people,

-Accept positive feedback and choose to not question it

-Keep a log of achievements and compliments

-Maintain a journal of your thoughts and reflections, examining your notes periodically to gain insights

-Shift your paradigm from an emphasis on failure to an emphasis on learning from your experiences

-Allow other people’s successes to inspire you, not intimidate you

-Stop comparing yourself to others – comparison usually produces negative feelings

-Focus on your vision of your future, not your stories about your past

We all face imposter syndrome at certain points in our careers. If this is an issue for you, acknowledge it, reflect on it, and endeavor to develop strategies to move past it. You can do it!

If you believe this content would resonate with a friend or colleague, please feel free to forward it along!