5 Ways to beat Impostor Syndrome

“Me? Really? What will I do when they figure out I am just here by mistake, accident, sheer random luck?”

Have you had these thoughts? Something like them? Then you have experienced the impostor syndrome. I was so glad when I heard the term – it finally clicked why these powerful, incredible, impressive leaders were just waiting to “get caught”. They felt they did not really belong – despite their outstanding performance in times of great duress. These leaders rallied for their teams, for their managers, for their families, for their communities….but not for themselves.

What is this “impostor syndrome” and why does it happen?

In working with my coaching clients, I find it is a bit of lack of confidence, a bit of humility taken too far and a lack of practice in touting themselves. It doesn’t feel quite right to them to see themselves in that light – certainly doesn’t feel right for them to self-promote. Yet, that can become an obstacle in their careers. Perhaps they “over-collaborate”, a clever way to have someone else vet your ideas thus creating a net to protect yourself from making mistakes. Perhaps they never think of themselves as ready or deserving for that promotion – so they don’t push for it. However it is expressed, the impostor syndrome creates unnecessary angst and mixed signals. Management begins to wonder – Is this person really strategic? Does this person have the “guts” to handle the job? Is this as far as this person can go?

The only way to tackle this syndrome is by clearly targeting it. Try some of these tips and put that self-doubt away for good.

1. Be Honest with Yourself:

Acknowledge those feelings of doubt. It’s hard to view ourselves in an unflinching light and explore our own vulnerabilities. However, without first recognizing that the self-doubt is there and exploring why it has emerged, you won’t be able to take the second most important step.

2. Breathe in your Strengths:

Once you figure out why the doubts have been triggered (new unexplored assignment? Tough month with your most difficult client? Your star performer expresses dissatisfaction with his work?), give yourself a break. Remember what got you to where you are.  Why would your management or your clients trust you if you had not delivered in the past? Think about what makes you credible – what are your strengths? Then think about how you can use these strengths in those moments of doubt. One client’s strengths are strategy and being focused. Her impostor syndrome pops up when she has to deal with performance issues in her team.

So how can she use her strength? When having those difficult performance discussions, she focuses on helping that team member see how his/her actions affect the goals of the team. She helps them learn how to “connect the dots” – something that comes very easy for her. Although the act of the conversation is still scary for her, she feels more confident in having them because she is relying on her key strength and it allows her to take the next step.

3. Celebrate your wins:

So often we accomplish a great deal, yet we don’t step back and reflect on the impact we’ve had. So, stop, think about how despite your doubts, your actions have indeed helped or even created a big win for your team. It’s OK to take that moment and enjoy it. That gives you the ability to tackle Step 4.

4. Don’t forget the potholes:

As you breathe in your strengths and celebrate your wins, you then have to examine those weaknesses that are rattling you.  Look at yourself again and determine which are your relevant weaknesses. A client created a lot of doubt for himself because he felt he was not good at helping others understand his process for coming up with creative ideas. The thing was, he didn’t need to explain the process, he needed to sell his ideas. So rather than elaborately explaining to everyone in the room how he listened to 500 songs or how he studied Picasso’s masterpieces to find that “feeling” the marketing campaign needed, he needed to focus the conversation on how his inspiration met the marketing campaign’s goal. He was getting lost in the weeds when it was not necessary. Once he moved away from this, he was able to deal with the relevant weakness that was in his way – he now could focus on learning how to create buy-in.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice:

Many have seen Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk : “Your body language shapes who you are”. If you haven’t, it is worth your time. Her slogan, of “fake it until you become it” proves to be true. Put on your poker face, do your “power pose” and just do it. The more you practice taming your impostor syndrome, the easier it gets. Yes, it might come up again – but this time, you will not be so rattled and you will know how to manage it.

So, stop carrying that pit in your stomach, reflect on it and focus on presenting yourself as the Leader you want to be…it’s likely you’re there and don’t know it!