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4 Steps to Overcoming Leadership Imposter Syndrome

If you have experienced imposter syndrome as a leader, you’re in good company. Sheryl Sandberg, Howard Schultz and Arianna Huffington are among many successful leaders who have admitted to struggling with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

It is a well-known psychological phenomenon that causes a person to believe they are not really worthy of their accomplishments. They worry that someday they will be ‘found out’, exposed as a ‘fraud’. Leaders who suffer from imposter syndrome have somehow conjured flawed beliefs about their success, self-worth and leadership ability and attribute these to luck rather than their talent, hard work and qualifications. Imposter syndrome can lead to stress, fear, anxiety and a decline in confidence. In turn this can negatively affect a leader’s performance and ability to build and sustain teams and organisations that thrive. 

Instead of allowing it to drag you down, take positive action to overcome it. You could even use it to gain competitive advantage.

1. Face up to it 

It is hard to overcome an obstacle if you ignore it. Ignoring the syndrome adds fuel to the fire, increasing your self-doubt and ability to lead well. 

The first step is acknowledging imposter syndrome. Understand that it is not unique to your situation.  Acknowledge the thoughts you are having and put them into perspective. Ask yourself how helpful these thoughts are, are they helping or hindering you? 

2. Acknowledge your strengths and capabilities

A practical strategy for combatting imposter syndrome is acknowledging and analysing your talents and strengths.  Consider how these have helped youget to where you are today and how they have helped you to help othersget where they are today. If you struggle to gain an in-depth picture of your strengths ask others for feedback.

Documenting your achievements is another great tactic, in those moments when self-doubt creeps in you can look at the list to remind yourself why you were chosen for this role.

3. Accept that you don’t have all the answers 

Successful leaders accept that they can’t and don’t need to have all the answers all the time. They suffer from a bias that says they should know. When we are plagued with self-doubt we are usually operating out of fear that may make us micro-manage.  Instead, empower your team and allow them the opportunity to shine by involving them in the decision-making process and allowing them to figure it out for you. Ask for help! It does NOT make you weak or unqualified to lead and it won’t result in a loss of control. You are not a super hero, you are a human being. 

Remember, success cannot be achieved alone. It is a collaborative effort.  Mindful delegation is a critical leadership skill as you are only as effective as the team that you cultivate around you.

4. Avoid comparing yourself to others

Comparison is the enemy of good leadership, avoid this trap at all costs! Leaders are competitive by nature however constantly comparing yourself to others is waste of energy and will only distract your focus from the goal at hand. Comparing can have a detrimental impact on confidence. Command respect by setting your own metrics for achieving success. 

Leadership requires confidence, and this stems from understanding that perfection is unattainable. Great leaders accept that everyone makes mistakes, themselves included and they still have the right to be ‘there’.

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Posted on Wed, March 20, 2019 in Leadership Personal Development
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