Constantly feeling like you are about to be “found out” as a fraud can sabotage your leadership. If that is how you feel, you probably suffer from imposter syndrome. Leadership coaching can help you overcome this stealthy ailment on a personal level and the level of your organization.

If you feel that you don’t deserve your leadership position and you are always a misstep away from “revealing yourself” as a fraud, you probably have imposter syndrome.

The bane of leaders everywhere, imposter syndrome sabotages the work of many talented executives. It can cause leaders to avoid feedback, refuse opportunities, and torment themselves with constant negative self-talk.

What can an intelligent leader do about imposter syndrome?

Feeling like an imposter is a self-sabotaging leadership attitude. 

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome on a Personal Level

Imposter syndrome can wreak havoc throughout an organization on a personal level. It can permeate the workplace culture. In addition to sabotaging their leadership, people with imposter syndrome may unwittingly create an organizational culture that makes others more likely to develop imposter syndrome.

Leadership Coaching Can help Leaders Defeat Imposter Syndrome

Leadership coaching aims to help leaders achieve their potential. As I have pointed out in my executive coaching books, a coach can help leaders overcome obstacles they may not recognize. Imposter syndrome can be such an obstacle, and leadership coaching offers concrete solutions to this problem.

Escaping the “I Must Know Everything” Trap

Leaders with imposter syndrome often feel that people around them expect them to know more than they do. Admitting that you don’t know everything can be liberating and empowering.

Instead of acting like an omniscient entity, an exercise every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, try strategizing vulnerability. Being vulnerable and susceptible to making mistakes is profoundly human. Intelligent leadership is not about avoiding failure. It’s about dealing with it constructively and moving towards success.

Innovation and transformational leadership are risky propositions. They both involve exploring the unknown. When we do something that we have never done before, we are susceptible to mistakes and failure.

Opening Up to Feedback

Feedback from your colleagues or executive coach is the best tool you will ever have to improve your leadership skills. Through honest and meaningful feedback, you can identify your strengths and the gaps in your leadership competencies.

Treat your faults as simple variables in the great equation that defines you. Try to dispose of them through experimentation. Be open about them and dissociate them from shame.

Exploiting the Power of Questions          

Executive coaching professionals use questions to help leaders identify problems, find solutions, and improve themselves. As a leader, you can invite questions to escape the clutches of perfectionism.

Perfectionism is a coping mechanism those with imposter syndrome often employ. Some leaders hide behind perfectionism. At the same time, they isolate themselves from their surroundings, feeling more and more like imposters.

Invite questions from your peers and reports. Don’t be afraid or reluctant to answer them with “I don’t know.” Make problem-solving your top priority. Turn questions into tools that help you solve issues.

Cleaning Up Your Self-Talk

Self-doubt is normal. We all doubt ourselves and our capabilities now and then. Turning that into persistent negative self-talk is counterproductive and senseless.

Self-awareness is the key to heading off negative self-talk. Once you understand your thoughts and emotions, you will find it easier to reframe them.

Positive self-talk is powerful. 

Abandon your negative thought patterns and scripts and switch to positive ones. Instead of dwelling on why you don’t feel you deserve a promotion, focus on what you can offer in your new position and what positive differences you can make.

Creating an Organizational Culture that Defeats Imposter Syndrome

When you suffer from imposter syndrome, you can unknowingly facilitate a company culture where the problem spreads. Clean up your act to avoid “infecting” others with your problems. Then implement measures to nip the impostor syndrome issue in the bud.

  • Have honest discussions with your team members.
  • Communicate to them clearly what it takes to succeed in your organization and ensure they assess themselves in alignment with these requirements.
  • Define bias as an enemy of accurate companywide self-assessments.
  • Conduct a methodic assessment of your organization for exclusion and bias.
  • Implement rigorous accountability mechanisms.

Leadership and business coaching can help you steer your organization away from imposter syndrome. As a leader, you are not an all-knowing expert. You are an authority. As such, you are prone to mistakes and just as vulnerable as anyone on your team.

Be honest and have integrity and courage. Intelligent leadership is never an exercise in perfection.


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