What is imposter syndrome? 6 tips to identify and defeat it.

What do Albert Einstein, Lady Gaga, and Michelle Obama have in common? Yes, they are all successful and talented changemakers. But like many other high-achievers, they cited feeling like they did not deserve the accolades they received. They all suffered from imposter syndrome.

Leadership studies reveal that this phenomenon is not only more common than you may think, those who identify with it are often the last people you might expect.

What is imposter syndrome?

Clients and colleagues have been asking me with growing frequency about what imposter syndrome is, wondering how to identify it, and ways they can overcome it. 


Imposter syndrome is defined as excessive self-doubt and unwarranted feelings like you are not good enough, resulting in the individual feeling like a fraud.

The danger of an imposter mentality is that it can become a habitual way of thinking, leading to paralyzing stress, anxiety, and depression from fear you might be exposed as a fraud, even though you are not. It can stunt your career growth and present missed opportunities.

Although the term was coined decades ago, it has surfaced more in recent times, and has become the main subject of TED Talks to wellness podcasts.

These destructive feelings of inadequacy can spill into different areas of your life, from relationships, parenting, school, and career. As a certified coach myself, I can cite the many leadership coaching benefits. Among them are recognizing and eradicating these self-limiting beliefs.

Imposter syndrome can inevitably take a toll on your confidence and performance at work if it is not dealt with.

With today’s pressures and digitization, is it any wonder individuals are feeling this kind of self doubt? 

Why leaders suffer from self-doubt


In a survey of executives and managers I personally conducted on LinkedIn, I discovered something very surprising. The vast majority of respondents said they suffered imposter syndrome in their current roles. I would like to point out these are high-level, top performers who worked hard to be in their roles and continue to thrive in them, making them very deserving of the positions they hold, albeit they may not feel that way.

Meanwhile all over the world, employees cite unprecedented rates of burnout, and tired leaders may not be giving staff accolades they deserve, leading to more questions about their abilities. With social media, we can peer into other people’s lives like never before, creating comparisons and amplifying feelings of not measuring up, often forgetting that posts are a veneer of what people want you to see rather than a true glimpse of their reality. These are just some examples of what causes imposter syndrome, and psychologists take a deeper dive into contributing factors. 

If you can relate to imposter syndrome, there is a positive takeaway: it mainly affects the most high-achieving professionals, so you are in good company and certainly not alone. 

Unmasking false beliefs about yourself

Feeling like a fraud is not an easy thing to sit with, with many leaders feeling like they are doing their jobs half pretending.

Unmasking the reasons why you feel this way is something a leadership coach like myself is trained in.

That is right –you most certainly can uncover and defeat these self-limiting beliefs. These are the stories we tell ourselves that are false or unfounded. For example, believing that we are not as capable in our jobs as others think we are.

This is the core of what I work on with my clients. Taking on an powered mindset and following these tips are a great way to tackle imposter syndrome and kick it to the curb for good.

Top 6 tips for defeating imposter syndrome


Setting high standards for yourself is great, but when they are unreasonably high or unattainable due to perfectionism, you are setting yourself up for the feelings of unworthiness characteristic of imposter syndrome.

1. Question your negative self talk.

When a self-defeating or negative thought pops into your mind, challenge it. This is the basis of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It might sound intimidating, but its root its function is to help you distinguish fact from you feelings. Just because you have a feeling or sense about something does not make it true.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others.

This may come in the form of a digital detox where you unplug completely for a period of time (I know, not always easy, but a weekend free of screens offers so many mental, emotional and physical benefits) or avoiding certain social media that stirs up self doubt or inadequacy. Remind yourself that everyone is on their own journey. There are people out there admiring your accomplishments.

3.  Get peer feedback.

Immerse yourself in a supportive network of friends or peers, and ask them directly what they think of your abilities. Choose people you can be vulnerable with and share with them what you are going through. l almost guarantee the fraudulent feelings you have about yourself are not how others view you. As an added bonus, opening up this way will allow others feel comfortable to divulge possibly similar feelings.

4. Speak to yourself like you would a friend.

Would you be as harsh with a friend or loved one as you are to yourself? We tend to be our fiercest critics. Step outside yourself for a moment and talk to yourself in a kind, judgement-free way that you would someone you are mentoring, or a young family member or close friend.

5. Enlist the expertise of a  leadership coach.

Speaking to someone properly trained in navigating the feelings associated with imposter syndrome is an optimal way to dig deep into yourself and understand why you feel this way. A coach is dedicated to helping you uncover ways you can help yourself, by working towards a mindset for success.

6. Focus on your achievements.

Replace that negative self talk we mentioned before with positive things you say to yourself. Remind yourself of why you were chosen and your accomplishments leading up to your current position. I think this recent Under Armour commercial, featuring WNBA star Bella Alarie, is an excellent example of reinforcing the positive and underscoring how deserving one is of their hard-earned success.

One you realize these feelings are normal and in fact are something to be proud of — after all, having imposter syndrome shows that you are in excellent company of other high-achievers.

Ready to identify and overcome imposter syndrome? Or simply just chat about establishing a more positive mindset for success? I would love to hear from you, contact Chris March Coaching today.

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