Fear is the invisible force field that holds great leaders back. Even the most visibly secure, confident, and seasoned leader deals with this nagging insecurity. The most common name for fear of inadequacy is something called “impostor syndrome.” Scientific American describes it this way:
“Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
The heart of the matter is this—everyone’s afraid of something.
Our deepest need in life is to feel loved and accepted by those around us, so it’s no wonder that those at the top feel lonely when they struggle with fear. To make matters worse, problems arise when leaders overcompensate by projecting confidence despite these secretly held doubts. But the good news is, there are ways to overcome “Impostor Syndrome”and grow as a successful and respected leader.
Wondering whether your leadership is suffering from “imposter syndrome?” Read the indicators below:
- A routine mistake is devastating, causing you to question your fitness to lead
- You chronically doubt your expertise, even in areas where you possess tremendous skill
- Getting a promotion or award feels like a stroke of good luck or chance
- You deeply fear others finding out that you’re not really qualified
- Repeated good performance is necessary for self-confidence
Take a good look at your communication patterns.
Most times, our true emotions are revealed not in what we say directly, but in how we say it. Maybe your inner doubt as a leader is expressed by wrapping your thoughts in phrases like “I don’t know”“maybe” or “I feel like.” Make a step toward greater confidence by jumping off the fence and onto solid ground. Take a stand for your own perspective and thoughts. Start by using more statements rather than phrasing things in a question form to elicit what other people think. In other words, risk being wrong about something from time to time.
Disclose your feelings of insecurity or unworthiness to someone.
A mentor or coach is your best bet for finding someone who understands the unique leadership pressures you face. It’s said that what holds the most power over our lives are often the hidden narratives or scripts that go unspoken. Get with someone you trust and tell them how you’re feeling. Seek out encouragement, and you will find that in airing your fears, they will begin to subside. A professional coach is great for this because they can walk alongside you in a meaningful, consistent manner.
Understand that performance and worth are not the same thing
Anytime performance is too closely tied to worth, the results can be catastrophic for a leader. Even when we screw up, we are not the sum of our mistakes. We are far better off knowing this from the start than attempting to teach it to ourselves later in life, when things have fallen apart around us, and we have lost our identity. I’ve seen it happen to more leaders than you’d think. Engage in your spiritual health by attending church, getting connected into community, or doing something that reminds you that the world is bigger than you! Start connecting. This process will unfold greater paths to authentic self-confidence.
Embrace your humanity
Celebrate your humanity, and even your weaknesses. A great example of this is Elon Musk. He continues to demonstrate what it means to lead with heart and humanity in his leadership of Tesla and SpaceX.In this video interview, we see him tear up over something that’s important to him: innovative space travel. We get a window into his human weaknesses and the influence other people’s opinions have over him. This is endearing, because we get a rare glimpse—outside the conditioning of fame and publicity—of a man with a dream who is longing for affirmation.Learn from his example and know that it’s okay not to have it all together. In fact, it’s better when you don’t.
Recount past successes
As leaders, it’s a common oversight to only look toward future success and forget about the past. Achievement and performance are both admirable qualities, but it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come. I often advise my coaching clients to reflect on the previous year. What milestones did you hit? And beyond that, what areas of growth were meaningful to you?
“Impostor syndrome” creeps in when we put improper emphasis on achievement and fail to show gratefulness for past successes. If you’re feeling like a fraud, or maybe just inadequate in your role as a leader, take a step back and reflect. Even ask friends and family whether they’ve noticed your growth and in what ways. This does wonders in overcoming insecurity and fear of the future which is the soil “impostor syndrome” takes root in.
To your excellence in squashing “impostor syndrome,”