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Imposter Syndrome

Overcome Imposter Syndrome to Become a Better Leader

Here are seven ways to slay imposter syndrome and develop your leadership.

Key points

  • Imposter syndrome affects even high-achieving leaders, making it difficult to make decisions and lead teams.
  • Leaders with imposter syndrome often struggle with anxiety, burnout, and difficulty delegating.
  • Practical steps include self-awareness, challenging negative thoughts, celebrating wins, and seeking support.
  • Leaders who address the syndrome can lead with greater confidence, agility, and create thriving organizations.
Source: Courtesy of Soren Kaplan
Source: Courtesy of Soren Kaplan

The corner office. Power lunches. Executive boardrooms. These are the iconic hallmarks of successful leaders. Yet, beneath the confident exterior of many executives lies a surprising personal challenge: imposter syndrome. This psychological phenomenon, characterized by persistent self-doubt and a nagging fear of being exposed as a fraud, can plague even the most accomplished individuals.

Understanding imposter syndrome and its impact is crucial for leaders who aspire to take their leadership to the next level and cultivate collaborative, agile, and resilient teams. Self-doubt, when left unchecked, can hinder the ability to make informed decisions, inspire others, and navigate the complexities of modern organizational leadership. On the other hand, leaders who cultivate self-awareness to manage their imposter syndrome unlock the potential to lead with greater confidence, instill greater executive presence, and drive high performing teams.

Why Understanding Imposter Syndrome Matters for Leaders

Imagine two leaders approaching a critical business decision. Leader A wrestles with self-doubt, questioning their ability to assess the situation accurately. They hesitate to seek input, fearing exposure of their perceived lack of knowledge. Leader B, conversely, acknowledges their strengths and weaknesses. They actively solicit diverse perspectives without fear of being exposed as incompetent, which results in better information and judgment in decision-making.

In my experience working with executives around the world, different people can experience different degrees of imposter syndrome. Some might have minor or fleeting feelings of self-doubt prior to giving big presentations. Others, however, might become paralyzed by the unchecked questioning of their capabilities. Leaders crippled by imposter syndrome may struggle with anxiety, leading to burnout. They also may avoid delegating or brainstorming with their teams for fear of not being seen as the “expert”. As a result, their hesitancy to champion or support new ideas can undermine the psychological safety of a group and stifle business performance.

Conversely, leaders who have become aware of and recognize their imposter syndrome typically demonstrate a growth mindset, believing they don’t have to be perfect, and that their abilities can be further developed through effort and learning. They foster a collaborative environment, leveraging the collective wisdom of their team. This confidence allows them to take calculated risks, embrace innovation, and navigate the ever-changing business landscape with greater agility and resilience.

Building Self-Awareness and Confidence: Practical Steps for Leaders

Recognizing you may have imposter syndrome doesn’t mean you’re accepting a life sentence of self-doubt. Here are practical steps you can take to gain self-awareness and cultivate greater confidence:

  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings: Recognize that imposter syndrome is a common experience for high achievers. Don't be ashamed—identifying you feel self-doubt and a lack of worthiness of your current situation is the first step towards overcoming it.
  2. Challenge Your Inner Critic: Notice any self-deprecating thoughts you may have, and then question their validity. Are you holding yourself to unrealistic standards? Reframe negative thoughts into positive affirmations that acknowledge your strengths and achievements.
  3. Focus on Evidence, Not Emotions: Track your accomplishments and contributions. Did you successfully lead an important project? Did you receive positive feedback for your leadership style? Use concrete evidence from prior performance evaluations, peers, and others to counter imposter syndrome's whispers of doubt.
  4. Embrace a Learning Mindset: View challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Step outside your comfort zone and take on new challenges to build your confidence and skillset. Gain confidence by looking at how you might have responded to a similar situation in the past, and then define specific steps you’ll take to improve your approach in the future.
  5. Seek Mentorship and Support: Surround yourself with positive and supportive individuals who believe in your abilities. Seek guidance from a mentor or executive coach who can offer valuable insights and encouragement.
  6. Celebrate Your Successes: Take time to acknowledge your wins, both big and small. Celebrating your achievements reinforces a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.
  7. Focus on Your Values: Connect with your core values and purpose as a leader. By staying true to your values, you can lead with confidence and authenticity.

The modern business landscape demands agile, resilient, and innovative leadership. Leaders who grapple with imposter syndrome may struggle to meet these demands. By acknowledging this psychological phenomenon and actively cultivating self-awareness, leaders can overcome self-doubt and unlock their full potential.

The confidence gained from taking steps to address imposter syndrome can allow leaders to lead with greater vision, foster collaboration within their teams, and navigate change with agility. Ultimately, leaders who recognize and work through their imposter syndrome are better equipped to create thriving organizations where everyone is appreciated for the unique strengths they contribute.


Bravata, D. M., Smith, G. P., Whiteman, E. N., Nguyen, U. H., Waxmonsky, J. G., Taylor, K. L., & Dean, O. (2020, April 21). Commentary: Prevalence, predictors, and treatment of imposter syndrome: A systematic review. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35(7), 1287–1295

Dweck, Carol S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House Publishing Group.

Kan, K. N., Woo, M. L., Chow, M. Y., & Cheung, T. K. (2019, April 10). Imposter phenomenon measurement scales: A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.

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