Even the most accomplished and confident leaders sometimes find themselves grappling with feelings of inadequacy and negative self-worth. For leaders, a self-perceived fraudulence can be exacerbated by a relentless pursuit of perfectionism, where any minor flaw is magnified into a colossal failure.
Despite these challenges, leaders can reframe this mindset and reduce their perfectionist tendencies while still successfully serving in their roles. Here, 16 Forbes Coaches Council members share strategic approaches to help leaders navigate the murky waters of imposter syndrome to achieve genuine self-assurance and maintain the highest performance.
- Share Your Feelings
The theoretical concept of “imposter syndrome” is currently being widely debated due to the lack of consideration of the systemic reasons why certain groups of people (often women and people of color) are most susceptible. As such, if you feel it, share it. It may not only be an internal confidence issue, and sharing it may also help your organization identify systemic challenges within the system and culture.
- Question The Lack Of Belief In Yourself
First of all, leaders have to change their perspective on the “self.” Every great leader has gone through imposter syndrome, and they grow out of it through changing their thinking, how they feel and the actions they take. The only need an individual has is to believe in oneself. The moment you feel imposter syndrome creeping in, you have to pause and ask yourself, “Is this real?”
- Override Challenging Moments With A Mantra
Rather than reframe, another technique is to override the moment with a mantra—a short, sharp, positive phrase, such as “one step at a time,” or one inspired by the little engine that could: “I think I can. I know I can.” It sounds simple, but it is highly effective.
- Broaden Your ‘Inner Team’
The voice of self-doubt doesn’t need to be the only one in your head. Picture your inner critic as a medieval knight, armored up to protect you from risk. Now, think about other characters to add to your team. Maybe the wisdom of a wizard, the courage of a barbarian or the focus of an archer. This fun thought exercise helps you see more choices when it comes to mindset.
- View Yourself Through A Lens Of Self-Worth
At the core, imposter syndrome is about self-comparison with others that results in a harsh internal dialogue and a need to internally hide from others. This can be combated if there’s a willingness to begin looking at oneself through a lens of self-worth, value and potential. Internal narratives can begin to shift to a strengths-based focus, celebrating hard work, effort and progress.
- Take Action And Lean Into Affirmation
To combat imposter syndrome, leaders must identify, excavate and annihilate their negative self-perceptions, then adopt more affirming beliefs. From there, they must take consistent action to achieve success, which will help increase their confidence and help them rise above the issues that hold them back from achieving success. Action and affirmation are the antidotes for imposter syndrome.
- Understand What Lies Beyond Your Control
Everything within your control belongs to you, while that which lies beyond your control does not. The fundamental concept here is power. Whatever is unstable and uncomfortable is not under your power. Personalization shapes one’s personality. When you cease personalizing, your personality ceases to exist. Coming to this understanding empowers leaders to excel in any situation they encounter.
- Remember That You Are Still Learning
I would like to erase the concept of imposter syndrome and replace it with, simply, “I’m still learning.” Are you great on the first day of class? No, because you have to learn the material. New jobs and leadership assignments are no different. If you can learn, you never have to be an imposter. Coaching is a great outlet for reframing. If stuck, seek personal counseling. Courage before confidence.
- Focus On Your Positive Leadership Qualities
Imposter syndrome is common, so having the assurance that it is okay to have negative self-perceptions is important. From this foundation, focusing on what got you into the leadership role and the positive leadership qualities you exude (through feedback or past wins) will, over time, give you the confidence to perform at your best—or, more importantly, to be “good enough.”
- Acknowledge Your Feelings; Focus On Growth
It is very common for a leader to go through imposter syndrome. The first step is to acknowledge your feelings. Then, it is about seeing your accomplishments, skills and the value you bring to the table. Remember that perfection is never truly accomplished, so setting realistic goals and focusing on growth—not on negative thoughts—will help you as a leader performing in your role.
- Give Yourself A Reality Check
Imposter syndrome is often coupled with self-rejection, where a leader may reject their own competencies as being subpar before understanding the true need. Leaders giving themselves a reality check on what is “good enough” is a great starting point. Also crucial is acknowledging the feeling not as truth, but as common doubts, and that nurturing self-compassion can provide a healthy balance.
- Recognize How Self-Doubt Shows Up
Overcoming imposter syndrome starts with recognizing how it shows up and how it’s protecting you. Perfectionism might show up as a feeling that, “If I’m not perfect, I’m a failure.” Leaders can silence those thoughts by identifying one area where they can let go of the behavior that would be most helpful to the team. Why? Taking action silences those thoughts that cause us to unfairly doubt ourselves and gives us confidence.
- Seek Validation From Mentors; Challenge Self-Doubt
A leader with imposter syndrome can reframe negative self-perceptions by acknowledging their achievements, seeking validation from trusted mentors and focusing on growth rather than perfection. Developing a realistic perspective and challenging self-doubt with evidence can help overcome imposter syndrome and foster effective leadership.
- Drop False Self-Expectations; Show Vulnerability
It all comes down to vulnerability. As leaders, we have the perception that we know it all and can do it all. This false expectation puts leaders in an uncomfortable position, especially when faced with challenges they can’t handle. When leaders show they are vulnerable, it creates trust with their team and removes the pressure to have all the answers.
- Adopt ‘Good Enough, Bad Enough’ Mindset
Is the result good enough to accept it and move forward to the next project? Is the result bad enough to freeze this task and move on to a new one? Ask yourself these questions, and you won’t fall victim to perfectionism or imposter syndrome.
- Reframe ‘Imposter Syndrome’ As ‘Leadership Doubt’
I see executives misdiagnose a leadership challenge as “imposter syndrome.” Almost every C-suite executive I’ve worked with believes they should be in their role, yet they doubt their ability to handle a specific situation. Therefore, leaders need to reframe imposter syndrome as “leadership doubt.” In doing so, they’ll be able to find a solution and succeed in their role.
I Power Seeds
Here are our takeaways and thoughts - pause and reflect, then nourish and grow!
Incredible insights from successful leaders. Sometimes these ways are hard to see in ourselves, and is part of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and pushes our boundaries. But as you do, and as hard as it can be at times, it will propel your leadership skills beyond what you thought was possible.