Do You Ever Ask These Questions?

  • Do I have what it takes? 
  • Can I really do this?  
  • What if people see that I don’t have it all figured out, even though I am supposed to have all the answers? 

Even the most successful leaders may have asked themselves questions like these from time to time. 

But when the questions turn into limiting excuses like “Yeah But… I’m not as good as the previous CEO” or “Yeah But…I don’t have the right experience to do the job”, imposter syndrome can set in and derail even the best leaders.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the belief that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be combined with the fear of being “found out”. People experiencing imposter syndrome tend to believe that they got where they are because of luck and not their abilities.  

The term was first used in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in their work with high-achieving women. But today, the term is widely used and widely experienced. 

When a person no longer believes in their skills, there can be significant consequences including a leader’s ability to lead others. The good news is that leaders can overcome the lies of imposter syndrome and can even turn it into leadership strengths. 

Among other critical qualities, a leader must be confident and driven. Most importantly, leaders need respect from their team and confidence in themselves. Imposter syndrome strips away both.

If left uncontained, imposter syndrome can become the beginning of a downward spiral for leaders. Studies show that 70% of adults have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. 

Leaders must protect against and overcome imposter syndrome. They need to have strategies in place to recognize the signs and to avoid negatively affecting their leadership.

5 Strategies to Beat Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome often targets leaders, executives, and high-achievers. Their continued success has everything to do with how they approach their feelings of doubt. Imposter syndrome can completely change someone’s leadership style and effectiveness. 

These 5 tips can help insulate leaders from imposter syndrome. 

1 – Focus On Facts 

Great leaders work with facts. While feelings may come and go, facts don’t change. Facts fight off feelings of doubt that can skew what you know about yourself. This can wear down your motivation and willpower.  

When feelings of self-doubt arise, reflect on the challenges you’ve overcome and recall key accomplishments. Remembering these hard truths can help overcome temporary feelings and stop imposter syndrome in its tracks. 

2 – Share, Don’t Compare

There will always be someone more experienced and more accomplished. This has no impact on your success. Great leaders inspire others. Leaders can easily fall into a trap of looking at others as examples of what they can’t do rather than what they can do.

A LinkedIn feed is a breeding ground for these unhealthy comparisons. Be careful not to pair feelings of doubt with other’s self-promoting highlight reel. 

3 – Always Learn

Every leader has something that they have never done before or don’t know how to do. This does not make them an imposter. This is simply an excuse to back down or not try. The absence of experience is only a problem if it results in an unwillingness to learn. 

The real imposters aren’t willing to learn, change, and grow. 

4 – Invite Input 

Criticism can trigger imposter syndrome. It’s crucial to value constructive criticism. This is where real progress is made. Input from trusted colleagues provides a narrowed focus for improvement. Effective leaders use both positive and negative input to improve and grow. 

5 – Get A Mentor

A trusted mentor can point out unreasonable thoughts. A study on mentors by Sun Microsystems showed that employees with mentors are more highly valued than those who don’t have mentors. A mentor provides critical accountability. When someone is connected to people who support and motivate, imposter syndrome has a harder time manifesting.

Recognizing and Beating Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is unrelenting and can often reappear unexpectedly. When it is allowed to exist, it can erode a successful leader and career. Imposter syndrome can also lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression in even the most seasoned leaders. The most effective leaders can recognize the symptoms of imposter syndrome and overcome its attempt to derail them.


Marc A. Wolfe

Marc is an executive coach and consultant who helps leaders overcome the lies holding them back from their next level of success. 

When someone books a call with Marc they walk away with new weapons to combat self-doubt. He works with leaders, executives, and teams to dissolve the excuses they have held on to. Excuses that stop them from reaching new heights in their career and life. 

Marc is the author of an upcoming book called Yeah But… This book helps leaders identify the excuses and alibis that hold them back so they can achieve what they previously thought was unattainable.

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