Dealing with Impostor Syndrome: Is it All in Your head?


Impostor syndrome is the phenomenon that occurs when an individual doubts their abilities or accomplishments and has an irrational fear of being "outed" as a fraud. This is very common when people move into new positions or become a people leader for the first time. From an individual and a leader perspective, this syndrome can cause many issues and paralysis when moving forward with decisions in the workplace. So if you or somebody you work with are dealing with impostor syndrome, what can you do?

First, reflect on what accomplishments allowed you or your colleague get to where they are today. Many times people downplay their roles and impact on a project or initiatives. It's important to take time to truly understand the history and skills gained in past experiences and relate them to the role they're in now. What went well? What challenges were overcome? What feedback was given in the moment that helped push them in the right direction? Once you start listing off all of the things that went well, it can help build the confidence needed to get over the hump.

Next, consider who in your network would be a good person to tap into as a sounding board. Do you have a trusted mentor? A former leader? These people are well positioned to help you uncover your personal biases and pump you up - or provide that extra push - when you need it the most. Be open and honest, and make sure to be direct with your ask - do you want a sounding board, someone to listen to or somebody to give you direct advice? This will help prime your trusted person for how they can be a good support to you.

Finally, discover opportunities to build your confidence! Leadership development programs, especially those that build their curriculum around experiential learning, can help you get unstuck. Experiential learning allows you to practice new competencies in a safe environment so when the situation arises in "real life," you feel well prepared. Outside of a training environment, take a cue from Amy Cuddy's study about "power poses" and adjust your internal state to make yourself feel more powerful. Read more about her study here.

Check out FOCUS Training's experiential learning programs for leadership development at