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August 14, 2023

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

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Illustration by Marysia Machulska

If you’ve ever doubted your achievements or feared that you’re just one step away from being exposed as a fraud despite all of the evidence that you’re not, you’re not alone.

Imposter syndrome, that nagging feeling of inadequacy despite evidence of success, affects many accomplished individuals, including executives who by all accounts have already reached the upper echelons of success but are still striving for greatness. A recent study found that people with imposter syndrome aggressively pursue achievement while not being able to accept recognition when success is achieved and that those affected with imposter syndrome may experience increased levels of stress, burnout, and decreased job performance and satisfaction over time. 

The good news is that there are practical strategies to overcome this mindset and cultivate authentic self-assurance.

1. Make Room for All of Your Feelings

The first step in conquering imposter syndrome is acknowledging it. When we can make room and not just acknowledge, but actually name and accept the feelings often shrouded in shame, we take away their power. Recognize that these feelings are common and don’t reflect your true abilities. What is the gift that these negative feelings bring? How do they help you? How do you benefit by feeling this way? If you’re willing to explore these feelings and then take it a step further by sharing all of this with a trusted colleague or a coach, you may feel liberated and realize that even the most successful people experience imposter syndrome.

2. Celebrate Your Achievements

Make a list of your accomplishments, both big and small. Reflect on your journey, the hurdles you’ve overcome, and the skills you’ve honed. Recognizing your successes is essential to combatting the self-doubt that imposter syndrome thrives on.

3. Challenge Negative Self-Talk

Imposter syndrome feeds on negative self-talk. When you catch yourself thinking you’re not good enough, challenge those thoughts. Ask yourself for evidence supporting and opposing these beliefs. You’ll likely find that your accomplishments far outweigh your perceived shortcomings.

4. Shift From Perfection to Progress

Striving for perfection sets the stage for imposter feelings. Embrace the idea that growth comes from progress, not flawless execution. Set realistic goals and celebrate incremental achievements. Remember, true leadership is about continuous learning and improvement.

5. Reframe Failure as Opportunity

Mistakes are inevitable, even for executives. Instead of viewing failures as confirmation of your inadequacy, see them as stepping stones toward growth. Each setback offers valuable lessons that contribute to your development as a leader. Being able to not only see failure as opportunity but then communicate those lessons learned and an updated go-forward strategy helps you and your team and your organization build on those set backs.

6. Seek Constructive Feedback

Receiving feedback is crucial for personal and professional growth. Actively seek input from colleagues and mentors you trust. Their perspectives can provide valuable insights that challenge imposter feelings and encourage your continued progress. This is why our coaching engagements always begin with a 360 evaluation.

7. Practice Self-Compassion

Treat yourself with the same kindness you’d extend to a friend facing imposter syndrome. Practicing self-compassion involves acknowledging your feelings without judgment and reminding yourself that everyone experiences self-doubt at times.

8. Visualize Success

Visualization is a powerful tool to rewire your mindset. Imagine yourself confidently navigating challenges, leading with assurance, and achieving your goals. As you consistently visualize success, you’re training your brain to embrace positive self-beliefs.

9. Embrace Your Authentic Self

Remember, leadership is not about projecting an image of perfection. It’s also not about treating people poorly because that’s how you were authentically feeling that day. Authenticity is about aligned behavior that is true to your beliefs, values, and motivations. You demonstrate authenticity by how you show up everyday and the best way to do that is to be consistent. What are you modeling every day for your team? Does it align with your core values?

10. Create Your Own Sasha Fierce

Even Beyoncé admits to experiencing imposter syndrome. To combat it, she steps into a character she invented named Sasha Fierce. Stay tuned for a free worksheet using Neuro Linguistic Programming to create your own superstar that you can tap anytime you need that extra bit of fierceness. The character alarm method is a way for your iPhone to remind you that YOU get to be the character you want or need to be in your life, be it Sasha Fierce or your own fabulous character.

Conquering imposter syndrome is an ongoing journey, and as an executive, you’re well-equipped to lead by example. Additionally, by following these steps, you can not only overcome imposter syndrome but also foster a culture of openness and growth within your team and organization. Remember, your leadership journey is a testament to your capabilities – own it authentically.

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