Imposter syndrome – don’t fight it

Imposter Syndrome

Over the last 20 years one of the most common experiences I’ve discussed with leaders is them feeling like an imposter. Even through my own career, I’ve had moments where I’ve felt out of my depth, wondering whether I should be in the role I’m paid to do.

Although a huge amount of research has been conducted into imposter syndrome, in simple terms it relates to feeling like we’re a fraud in the role we’re performing. Imposter syndrome isn’t restricted to the unfortunate few, anyone can experience it. In fact, even some of the most famous CEOs have admitted feeling like an imposter during their careers.

Suffering in silence

Feeling like an imposter sits at the heart of authentic leadership, because we feel inauthentic as we wait to be found out. We silently suffer the anxiety which comes with believing that at any moment someone will burst into our office and reveal us to be the fraud we feel are, which bizarrely never happens!

Escaping a fraudulent reality

When we feel like an imposter, we create a definition of reality that we trap ourselves within. In spite of the evidence which exists to counter our beliefs, we over-focus on things we believe that we’re not perfect at. We then hold onto our definition as a form of comfort blanket, because it actually feels easier to feel like a fraud then to accept that we might be good at the role we’ve been asked to do.

Focus beyond self

In feeling like an imposter, we put too great an emphasis on the person we see in the mirror rather than on the contribution we’re making. That is, it becomes all about us and not those we’re serving. When we focus beyond self on contribution, it allows us to transcend our concerns about who we are and how we’re perceived (i.e. our identity and leadership) and instead focus our energy on those we are making a difference to.

Be an imposter 

Whether we like it or not feeling like an imposter is ours to own. However, even if we focus beyond self it may not remove feeling like we’re a fraud.

If this is the case, why fight it?

That is, why not be an imposter and use the anxiety we experience as a force for good. However, rather than being an imposter where we feel we’re not capable of fulfilling the role we’re expected to do, let’s try being the imposter who’s not making the contribution we have the potential to make. This means that it becomes less about us and more about the positive difference we’re making to others. Our anxiety then drives us beyond the feeling of being a fraud and deeper into our purposeful contribution to others.


Something to consider…

Take a minute to consider when you’ve felt like an imposter. What evidence did you have to support this feeling, and what evidence existed to contradict it?

Something to try…

Take a minute to think about those beyond yourself that you are currently making a contribution to – who are they and what difference are you making to them?

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