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Are You an Imposter?

Are You an Imposter?
9 May 2013 John Moore

Do you sometimes feel that one day someone is going to find out you’re a fraud?

Any minute now you will get a tap on the shoulder and the news is that there’s been a terrible mistake – you are not really meant to be here because you do not have the necessary skills or experience to do your job.

Congratulations – you are an imposter! You have imposter syndrome (aka tap-on-the-shoulder-it-is).

This is a phenomenon common amongst high achievers. It exists when we fail to internalise all external evidence of our competence. Any success we have is of course down to luck and/or our ability to deceive everyone else that we are more intelligent than we really are.

During a recent Perspectives 360 degree feedback meeting with a senior manager, a client made a comment to their coach that most of us experience at some time or another during our careers – “I’m worried that one day someone will find me out and discover that I don’t know what I’m doing.”

This is classic ‘imposter syndrome’ at work. It is a fear that many people experience at some point in their career; it is one that most senior executives experience especially when leading a large scale change programme, organisation transformation, leading a team with a new strategy or trying to create a new company culture. Why is it that we worry that someone will discover our secret – the secret being that when we are faced with the unknown, our confidence takes a knock?

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was created by psychologists Clance and Imes in 1978, and refers to the idea that competent people find it hard to believe in their own capabilities or to internalise their own accomplishments. One definition of ‘imposter syndrome’ is when an individual feels inauthentic in their role: they feel they do not deserve or merit recognition or their position. They see evidence of their competence as mere luck and sometimes feel they are not actually qualified for the position they hold. Although a lot has been written about successful women experiencing ‘imposter syndrome’, research shows that men also experience this phenomenon. It has also been shown that scientists, academics, graduate students, people starting a new job, actors and actresses and other high performers have experienced the syndrome.

So why the interest in ‘imposter syndrome’? Quite simply, it can lead to significant self-doubt, hindering individuals from feeling as intelligent and capable as they are and it can inhibit performance. It can also cause people to agonise over small mistakes and miss out on opportunities or advancements they are capable of achieving. ‘Imposter syndrome’ can cause hesitation and even paralysis which can be costly to businesses as problems are not resolved and opportunities can be missed by delaying key decisions.

Top Tips for Overcoming the Imposter Phenomenon:

It is Okay to have these Feelings

Feeling insecure, apprehensive or uncertain from time-to-time is normal: it is okay. By all means listen to your feelings, but do not necessarily believe them as more often than not they are ‘crooked thoughts‘.

Reference Back to Recent Experiences

When you have an ‘I’m not up to this’ moment, simply look for evidence that demonstrates why you are up to it. Recognise that you have handled other difficult situations and challenges in the past and have succeeded. Draw on your resource bank of evidence to refute and ‘smash’ your doubts.

Your Capabilities are Continually Growing

When you are asked by someone to be involved, to take responsibility for something or to lead a new project, they see both the you that ‘has done’ (your past achievements) and the you that ‘can do’ (future potential based on past performance). Remember that it is okay to feel uncertain and not to be polished and practised in every aspect of the task ahead. Looking at ‘imposter syndrome’ from this perspective enables you to perceive it as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than something to fear.

Seek Feedback on your Capability

Looking at what other people see as your capabilities is an excellent way to challenge your insecurities. Given it is our fear of other people changing their minds about us that is at the heart of ‘imposter syndrome’, taking stock of those same peoples’ views can be a tremendous smack in the face for self doubt. Why not invite feedback from your line manager, colleagues and team members by completing a 360 degree management assessment.

Surround Yourself with Supporters

Rarely are you ever truly alone. You will know someone who has been in a similar situation as you, so ask them for advice and support. If you really do not know anyone who can help you, seek out support by seeing this as an opportunity of extending your own personal network of contacts. It is okay to ask for help – asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

Get a Mentor or Coach

Find someone you can talk to who will allow you to be honest and share your thoughts without worrying about how they will use this information.

Be a Mentor or Coach

In addition to the value of helping and supporting others who might be experiencing their own ‘imposter syndrome’, sharing your own successes and ideas with others will reinforce your own accomplishments and successes.


So the next time you experience ‘imposter syndrome’, remember that it is confirmation that you are in the right place to grow and to seek out new experiences and learning opportunities. You are in fact on the edge of developing new competences and capabilities. So take a minute to celebrate that you are capable then do what great leaders do – innovate, problem solve and lead yourself and others with self belief and confidence.

John Moore has over 20 years experience of training and developing Managers, Coaches, Consultants and businesses. As Managing Director of Exponential Training, John researches, speaks, blogs and writes about how to improve performance. He also designs and delivers engaging, fun and interactive learning programmes. John is a Fellow Chartered Manager and has worked with managers and organisations in over 20 different countries.


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