As a leader, by most any standard, you have achieved a level of success. After all, not everyone gets promoted, or perhaps even multiple times, and now has the responsibilities and opportunities that come with leading others. While that may be the logical and even obvious truth, many leaders feel they have arrived not because of experience, skill, and wisdom, but by luck or the ability to “fool” others. If you ever feel this, welcome to the imposter syndrome.
An article in the International Journal of Behavioral Science estimates that 70% of people experience this at some point in their lives. My personal observations of and conversations with leaders tell me this number is accurate, or perhaps even a bit low.
If you underestimate your knowledge, experience, and competence, then perhaps you are experiencing this phenomenon. Instead of acknowledging what you can do and have accomplished, you have convinced yourself that your just got lucky or got away with faking it.
When you feel like you’re faking it, you live in fear. Fear of staying one step ahead, fear of others finding out, fear of disappointing others (including those who hired you). You live in fear that neither your boss nor your team would care about you or listen to you “if they really knew.”
Let me set the record straight: How you are feeling is neither factual nor helpful. Besides that, who wants to live that way?
Repeat after me: I am not a fake.
If you recognize any of these feelings, now you know you aren’t alone. And even if that isn’t you, chances are you have team members who feel this way. So let’s talk about how to move you past the imposter syndrome to a healthier place with greater confidence (and therefore, even more competence).
How to Combat Imposter Syndrome
Here are six ways to help deal with those counter-productive thoughts and feelings.
- Focus on others. The imposter syndrome is all about us thinking about ourselves. Turn your focus onto others. Think about their needs and how you can support them. When you are serving and thinking about others, you will have less time to be anxious about yourself – and you will learn that you are more valued and needed than you might have been thinking.
- Get over yourself. We are in our own heads all the time, thinking about ourselves. The fact is most people aren’t thinking about us all that much. Even if some of what you are worried about is true, it has less impact on others than we imagine.
- Stop playing the comparison game. Often when suffering from the imposter syndrome we are comparing our perceived weaknesses with someone who is truly great in that area. Using that measuring stick we will never measure up. Ask yourself – are the comparisons I’m making helpful or even meaningful?
- Realize you had some hand in your successes. You aren’t a fake, and it wasn’t all luck. Look back at a past success and notice the things you did to that played a part in the positive outcome. Perhaps you weren’t perfect, but no one is. Realize that you were an imperfect part of the success.
- Remember that everyone fails sometimes. The best baseball players ever make at least twice as many outs as they get hits. Edison failed thousands of times before he figured out the light bulb. Warren Buffett doesn’t get every investment right. Why are you holding yourself to the perfection standard?
- Keep a file. If you don’t have a file of kind notes you have received, emails from Customers thanking you, and anything that gives you even momentary pride, start one now. Put it in your file drawer and on your hard drive (why not have both a physical and a digital one?). When you receive those sorts of things, read them, savor them, and file them. When you are suffering from the syndrome, take a read and remember that you have and can make a difference for others.
I hope these are helpful. If you have things that you do, add them in the comments below. And if you want more ideas, let me know that below too – and I will provide more strategies in the future.
One way to overcome the imposter syndrome is to be consistently learning. Soon I will be releasing a master class video series on leadership development. Titled, The Journey to Remarkable Leadership, it is created with our compliments to help organizations think about the whys and hows of developing leaders in the real world. Register now to get immediate access when it is released.