This informal CPD article, ‘Imposter Syndrome: Does it deserve to be in your life?’, was provided by Hannah O’Sullivan at Host Media Consultants. Hannah is a specialist personal impact and presentation skills coach, media trainer, and communication expert.
“I’m always waiting to get found out” whispered my client – a highly capable senior executive in a global business. She said it today during a one-to-one coaching session. Despite having a star over her head as a future leader, she simply cannot accept that she has earned her place at the table. She’s not alone. I hear similar phrases regularly from people you really would not expect: It can be found at the highest levels in any organisation.
"1. The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills."
Imposter syndrome (noun)
Wikipedia goes further: ‘Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. (1) Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon do not believe they deserve their success or luck.’
The term was coined in 1978 when it was primarily associated with the female experience. However, from my perspective, the feeling of being undeserving of one’s success and the anxiety it provokes is not confined to one gender.
At its most crippling, imposter syndrome paralyses our ambition; it makes us risk averse and resistant to change and stunts our curiosity. When we are fearful of making mistakes and the shame of being ‘revealed’ as unworthy, we play it safe, we avoid change, and we struggle to be flexible. Clearly, this is not a recipe for a fulfilling career or a flourishing organisation.
So, how to manage imposter syndrome? Has it any place in our lives? I would argue that it has, to a degree.
I believe that it serves a purpose if it means we prepare, research and anticipate risk. For the audience, the preparation prompted by imposter syndrome feeds a credibility that comes from being specific on data and focused on delivering.
If we understand the opposite of anxiety to be confidence, the antidote to the symptoms of imposter syndrome will be to build confidence by building skills through training. So, the challenge for a coach in my position, faced with a client who has identified themselves as experiencing imposter syndrome, is to get them to reframe and explore its impact so that it can be contextualised as a useful tool; something to be taken out of the tool bag when needed, then put back until the next time.
Building confidence through building skills means reconfiguring one’s attitude to failure so that it is less a source of shame and rather an opportunity to grow. Clients are encouraged to place their trust in their coach and in the techniques and tools we offer.
Building a safe place for failure is the first challenge for a coach. Only then can a client ‘road test’ the templates and skills in a way that fails, asks why, learns, and tries again.
Another client, let’s call him ‘Peter’ experienced a lightbulb moment in a recent coaching session. We gradually redefined his imposter syndrome from a crippling anxiety into a superpower.
Peter’s ‘otherness’ within his corporate culture means he impacts customers in a very different way to his peers. His humility lands as approachability, this in turn means his customers are able to communicate more easily with him, expressing their needs, fears, visions for their business. This is all vital intel for anyone who wants to influence others – it is crucial to understand needs and show listening if we are to land our ideas with people.
Hence, Peter’s diversity from his aloof corporate culture, deriving from his imposter syndrome, has become his superpower and USP.
So, let’s embrace our imposter syndrome as a useful basis for understanding ourselves and building on who we are, rather than who we are not.
We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Host Media Consultants, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.
¹Langford, J., & Clance, P. R. (1993). The imposter phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 30(3), 495–501. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-3184.108.40.2065
For more information from Host Media Consultants, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.