I met with a senior executive recently who confided in me that they felt they suffered from Imposter Syndrome. 

This was not the first time I have heard this. If you haven’t come across the term, Imposter Syndrome is a pervasive psychological phenomenon that can significantly impact individuals in leadership roles. Think of it as the persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved due to your efforts and skills.

This highly regarded and successful leader was leading a complex organisational change initiative including a restructure and major systems implementation during a period of rapid growth. Despite this person's evident competence and achievements, this leader still harboured persistent self-doubt and an irrational fear of being exposed as a fraud.

In my experience, Imposter Syndrome is common among senior leaders and no matter how far up the organisational chart they go, no matter how much success they achieve they still have this underlying thought that they are not good enough to be where they are and at some point, they will be “found out.” This can be caused by various factors, including early family dynamics, and can have profound effects on their confidence, decision-making, and overall well-being.

To be effective in leading change through their organisation, the executive needed to overcome their Imposter Syndrome.

In this article, we will discuss the signs and symptoms of Imposter Syndrome, its prevalence among leaders, and practical strategies to conquer it. Additionally, we will explore the importance of effective leadership to navigate change with confidence. By the end, you will have a better understanding of Imposter Syndrome and the tools to overcome it, enabling you to lead with authenticity and self-assurance.

Strategies to Conquer Imposter Syndrome for Leaders

Imposter Syndrome can be a significant barrier to success for leaders, but it is not insurmountable. By implementing the following strategies, leaders can conquer Imposter Syndrome and thrive in their roles:

1. Recognising the presence of Imposter Syndromeleadership

Recognising the presence of Imposter Syndrome is the first step towards overcoming its challenges. It involves acknowledging those moments of self-doubt and insecurity that creep into your thoughts, often undermining your confidence and achievements. By becoming aware of these feelings and behaviours, you can start to unravel their grip on your mindset and begin the journey towards building self-assurance and resilience. This phenomenon may not be recognised as a mental health disorder in the DSM, but it is common and estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of it at some point in their lives.

Pay attention to the patterns of your thoughts and emotions when faced with success or praise. Do you dismiss compliments as mere flattery or attribute your accomplishments to timing and good luck or external factors?

These could be signs of Imposter Syndrome at play.

It is crucial to differentiate between genuine humility and the damaging effects of Imposter Syndrome. While humility involves recognising your accomplishments without arrogance, Imposter Syndrome distorts your perception of yourself and erodes your self-worth.

2. Acknowledge and accept your vulnerabilities

Acknowledge your feelings of inadequacy and understand that many people experience similar doubts, especially when taking on new challenges. And if there are no challenges, typically there is no change Recognise that everyone has their doubts and insecurities, and it is okay to feel vulnerable. Seek support from trusted colleagues or consider professional therapy to address underlying issues. Recognising and owning your vulnerabilities, and learning to tolerate discomfort, can be empowering. It allows you to connect on a deeper level with your team members and demonstrates authenticity. Remember, vulnerability is a trait of courage, not weakness. By acknowledging your vulnerabilities, you pave the way for growth and development both personally and professionally. It allows you to work on areas that need improvement and fosters a culture of openness within your team, promoting mental health and well-being. Make vulnerability a cornerstone of your leadership journey.

3. Focus on your strengths

Reflect on your distinctive skills and achievements to enhance self-assurance when facing difficulties. Consider the experiences and skills that have brought you to where you are now. Maintain a list of your strengths and review it frequently to boost your confidence. Accept positive feedback as confirmation of your skills and knowledge. Acknowledging your strengths will help strengthen your confidence in your leadership capabilities and enable you to utilise them effectively in times of change.

4. Set realistic expectationsimposter syndrome

Leaders facing imposter syndrome must set realistic expectations. By defining achievable goals and objectives, you can alleviate undue pressure on yourself. Understand that no one is perfect, and it's okay to make mistakes. Understanding that perfection is not attainable but progress is, allows room for growth and learning. Realistic expectations pave the way for acknowledging your limitations without undermining your capabilities. Embrace the idea that setbacks are part of the journey towards success and not a reflection of your competence. Shift your focus from unattainable standards to incremental progress, fostering a healthier mindset. Set realistic expectations for yourself and recognise that failure is often a necessary part of the learning process. This will enable you to take charge of change with resilience and confidence. Remember, leadership is about progress, not perfection.

5. Seek support from your network

Surround yourself with a strong support network of colleagues, mentors, friends, and family who can provide encouragement and reassurance when you need it most. During challenging times, seeking support from your professional network can be pivotal in combating imposter syndrome. Connecting with colleagues, mentors, or friends who understand your role and the pressures you face can provide valuable insights and a sense of reassurance. Discussing your feelings of inadequacy openly within a trusted circle can help normalise the experience and alleviate the burden of self-doubt. Accepting support from others does not signify weakness but rather showcases your willingness to grow and adapt. By fostering a supportive network, you create a space where vulnerability is acknowledged and strengths are celebrated, ultimately aiding in overcoming imposter syndrome. It is important that you surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth, not just what you want to hear.

6. Challenge negative thoughts

To overcome imposter syndrome, leaders must actively challenge negative thoughts. This practice involves identifying self-critical beliefs and questioning their validity. By reframing these thoughts with a positive and realistic perspective, leaders can cultivate a healthier mindset. When negative thoughts arise, challenge them with evidence of your past successes and positive feedback from others. Replace self-doubt with affirmations and positive self-talk. When working with clients I use a mindset map to assist them to identify the thought, question the thought and change the thought. Learning this technique is a great way to focus on the reality. Embracing mindfulness techniques can aid in recognising when negative thoughts arise and consciously choosing to replace them with affirming ones. Additionally, seeking feedback from trusted peers or mentors can provide valuable insights to counteract self-doubt. Remember, challenging negative thoughts is a continuous process that requires self-awareness and compassion towards oneself. By actively confronting these thoughts, leaders can build resilience and confidence in their abilities, enhancing their leadership skills during challenging times.

7. Focus on the bigger picture

Focusing on the bigger picture is an effective strategy for overcoming Imposter Syndrome. It involves aligning your actions and decisions with your long-term goals and vision. By keeping your goals in mind, you can maintain perspective and avoid getting caught up in self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Here are some ways to focus on the bigger picture:

  • Define your long-term goals: Clearly articulate your long-term goals and the vision you have for your personal and professional life.progress and change
  • Break it down: Break down your long-term goals into smaller, actionable steps that you can take on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Stay connected to your vision: Regularly remind yourself of the bigger picture and the impact you want to make. Visualise yourself achieving your goals and living your vision.
  • Consider the social context: Recognise the broader social context in which you operate. Understand that Imposter Syndrome is often perpetuated by societal expectations and biases. Challenge these expectations and focus on your unique contributions and value.

Keep the larger goal of your organisational change initiative in mind and remind yourself of the positive impact it will have on the organisation and its stakeholders. If you focus on only what is in front of you, barriers and obstacles to change can seem bigger than they really are. Focusing on the bigger picture can help you stay motivated and overcome feelings of self-doubt.

By focusing on the bigger picture and aligning your actions with your long-term goals, you can overcome Imposter Syndrome and lead with confidence and purpose.

Leading Change with Confidence

Navigating change with confidence is essential for effective leadership. Change management involves guiding individuals and teams through transitions and ensuring that they are equipped to adapt and thrive in the face of change. Consider some of the responsibilities of leaders in times of transformational change:

  • Provide a vision for the future.
  • Inspire confidence across stakeholder groups.
  • Bring people together to understand the need for the change.
  • Act with empathy to understand the insecurities of others. 

I could keep adding expectations on leaders but that would only make it seem more daunting. Taking charge of change is difficult.

By instilling confidence in your team members and leading by example, you can inspire trust and resilience. Effective change management requires clear communication, empathy, and a focus on the bigger picture. By embracing change and guiding your team through it, you can navigate change with confidence and lead your team to success.

Key Highlights

  • Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that affects individuals in leadership roles, causing them to doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as frauds.leading through change
  • Signs and symptoms of Imposter Syndrome include perfectionism, self-doubt, overachievement, fear of failure, discounting success, negative self-talk, procrastination, avoiding recognition, difficulty accepting feedback, and relentless comparisons.
  • Imposter Syndrome is common among leaders, with statistics showing that 58% of tech leaders, 70% of C-suite executives, and 75% of women in leadership roles have experienced it.
  • Strategies to overcome Imposter Syndrome include cultivating self-awareness and self-compassion, building a supportive network, setting realistic expectations, seeking professional help if needed, and creating a culture of confidence within the organisation.
  • Effective leadership during a crisis requires understanding crisis management dynamics, embracing adaptive leadership styles, communicating effectively under pressure, and fostering team resilience and morale.
  • Navigating change with confidence involves identifying opportunities in crises, implementing change with empathy and transparency, and focusing on long-term goals and the bigger picture.

Imposter syndrome can strike even the most accomplished leaders, but acknowledging vulnerabilities and focusing on strengths can help conquer it. Embracing adaptive leadership styles, effective communication, and team resilience are key during crisis management. By navigating change with confidence, identifying opportunities, and implementing change empathetically, leaders can inspire their teams. Seek support, challenge negative thoughts, and remember the bigger picture. Addressing imposter feelings head-on and fostering mentorship can make a profound impact. It is normal to experience self-doubt, but it doesn't have to hold you back from making a positive impact. Remember, you're not alone in this journey of growth and self-acceptance as a leader.

Take charge of change!

Frequently Asked Questions

The first signs of Imposter Syndrome in leaders often include self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, and a fear of being exposed as a fraud. High achievers and perfectionists are particularly susceptible to Imposter Syndrome.

Talking about Imposter Syndrome with your team requires open and honest communication. Create a safe space for team members to share their experiences and feelings of vulnerability. Discuss the Imposter Syndrome phenomenon and provide support and resources.

Seeking professional help, such as psychotherapy or therapeutic intervention, can make a significant difference in overcoming Imposter Syndrome. A trained consultant can also provide tools and strategies to challenge negative thoughts and support mindset change.

Balancing self-improvement with self-acceptance is key to overcoming Imposter Syndrome. It is important to strive for personal growth while also recognising and accepting your current abilities and achievements.

Implementing prevention strategies can help prevent the recurrence of imposter feelings. This can include practising self-compassion, challenging negative thoughts, seeking support from a network, and developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Certain leadership styles, such as perfectionism and self-critical tendencies, can make individuals more prone to Imposter Syndrome. Perfectionists and those with high standards for themselves may be more susceptible to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

Imposter Syndrome can affect decision-making in crisis situations by causing individuals to doubt their abilities and hesitate in making decisions. This can potentially delay action and impact the effectiveness of crisis management.

Mentorship plays a crucial role in overcoming Imposter Syndrome. Mentors can provide guidance, support, and reassurance, sharing their own experiences with Imposter Syndrome and offering strategies for building confidence and resilience.


If you would like to learn more about the topics discussed in this article, please contact Don Holley.