I’ve been in a few conversations recently where people were experiencing the old ’Imposter Syndrome’. That nasty, frustrating jumble of thoughts and feelings that stops us from shining and leading in the way we really want to.

Let’s start with this. If you experience Imposter Syndrome, that says to me that you’ve got some humility in you. It means you’re probably less likely to suffer from hubris and self-serving bias, which can really get in the way when it comes to creating change, engaging people, and making a lasting difference. As we’ve seen before, its when we find the sweet spot between confidence and wonderance that we are most open to new experiences, learning and change.

At the same time. overdosing on Imposter Syndrome doesn’t serve us. It can eat away at our self-esteem and cause debilitating paralysis when decisive action and confidence is what’s needed.

Here are three ways to help you overcome Imposter Syndrome (or at least, put it in its place):

  1. Look for your body of contradictory evidence. You’re in the role because someone has seen that you’ve got the goods. You’ve done the work. You’ve shown that you’re capable. You might be new to this role, but a lot of what it requires you’ve probably done before. Where is that true for you? There’s your evidence.
  1. Know you’re not an Imposter. You’re just having a bout of Imposter Syndrome. We all have feelings and thoughts that can limit us. Fear, doubt, insecurity. That makes us human. And the most effective humans I know notice when Imposter Syndrome feelings and thoughts rear their head, and they name what’s happening. “Ah, there’s the old Imposter thing showing up again. How’s that serving me? It’s not? OK, see ya later Imposter Syndrome.” When you see it as something you have, rather than something you are, you can keep it at arm’s length. You have it, rather than it having you. You stay in charge.
  1. Know that it’s all invented. It helps to know that everything in our culture is invented. All the rules, rituals, expectations, and limitations (including the ones you give yourself about how awesome you should be) are inventions of the human mind. Some rules serve us, others don’t. If we listen to a rule in our heads that says “I don’t deserve to be here”, that’s going to limit your effectiveness. Instead, why not invent a rule that serves you better? For example, something like “I’m a fast learner” might be a useful one.

And in case you’re still feeling it, here are two more:

Bonus tip #1: Act your way out of it. Professor Herminia Ibarra of the London Business School wrote a great book called Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader. Her primary premise is that navel gazing and trying to think our way into a new way of being won’t cut it. To grow into a role, we need to decide what ‘good’ looks like and be that. And our mindset will catch up. This aligns nicely with the Bigger Me tool that so many leaders find useful.

Bonus tip #2: Surround yourself with good people. Get the people around you who can prop you up when you need it, and challenge your thinking when that’s what’s required. Avoid ‘yes people’ who’ll only tell you what they think you need to hear. And limit your exposure to overly critical people who will likely amplify your Imposter. Choose people who can offer the right blend of backbone and heart to keep you both grounded and inspired.

As change makers, we can all expect to experience Imposter Syndrome from time to time. Don’t try to banish it. Just find a home for it. Get to know it, and become its master.


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