How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

BY C. Lee Smith
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Most employees have felt like they are suffering from imposter syndrome at least once in their professional career. The fear of failure can prevent us from thinking creatively and doing our best work. Feeling insecure can be paralyzing, but you can break free from doubt and perform at a high level.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

The National Institutes of Health define this condition as follows. “A behavioral health phenomenon described as self-​doubt of intellect, skills or accomplishments among high-​achieving individuals.”

If you have recently been promoted into a new position, you may be terrified of failing. You may also work extra hard to deliver a flawless performance. And some leaders with imposter syndrome desire to be the best while secretly fearing they are incompetent.

This mindset could lead to burnout if you don’t take quick action.

Conquer Perfectionism

Of course it would be nice to deliver every project perfectly. In the real world, that rarely happens. It may not be easy for you to let go of your ideals, so start working smarter instead of harder. 

Consider the current project your team is working on. Is it completely necessary that you require them to add a great new feature you just thought of? Or could you let it go for now and have it added in a later product release?

Address Your Other Top Weaknesses

As a leader, multiple business-​related issues will constantly demand your attention. The continued stress means some of your weaknesses may surface. And imposter syndrome sufferers may find it difficult to distinguish between which tasks they handle well from those they avoid.

For example, you may lack the courage or confidence to address employment-​related issues. Few problems hinder leaders more than the need to offboard an employee. Whether they are not producing, or they hold the wrong position, you must make a change.

Writing on this topic, Peter Bregman discussed a CEO who hesitated to terminate his vice president of sales. The CEO's core problem was a lack of emotional courage.

This weakness stemmed from his fear of the consequences. Would everyone in the company despise him because he fired a popular employee? Deep down, the CEO craved the approval of his employees.

Working with a coach, the CEO practiced taking small steps that boosted his emotional courage. He faced the fallout from decisions he made and grew braver. Finally, he was able to terminate the employee, which was an important step for the future of the company.

Understand Your Work Motivations and Workplace Behavior

If imposter syndrome is preventing you from excelling, learn what motivates you. Taking a psychometric assessment such as the one provided by TeamTrait can be illuminating.

Keep an open mind as you study your assessment results. Consider what the results mean with respect to your current leadership role.

You may learn that you fear not being able to duplicate past successes. Or the assessment may reveal that you have a tendency to procrastinate.

Being aware of these issues is an important first step. Deciding to tackle workplace behavior that is negatively impacting your team is also key. You don’t have to change everything all at once. 

A professional coach can help set up a plan to improve your ability to lead the way you want.

Track Progress and Celebrate Successes

Once you begin to address your imposter syndrome problem, track your progress. In particular, you should acknowledge small successes.

Your progress might include storing praise you have received from others in a recognition file. You might also post encouraging phrases and inspirational messages on your digital screens. And instead of downplaying praise you receive, thank the person giving it.

Lindsay Kolowich Cox notes, “kind words people have written to you via email, Twitter, [and] blog comments” make a difference. Don’t overlook them.

It is possible to leave imposter syndrome behind and become a great leader if you take concrete steps.

Image by Chris Yang on Unsplash.