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Leadership Advisory

The Leadership Dilemma: Battling Imposter Syndrome

By September 21, 2023No Comments
Imposter Syndrome

And every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even excel—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up

– Sheryl Sandberg, Former COO at Meta, in her book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. 

Sheryl is among the many in leadership who dwell on such intrusive thoughts, possibly on a routine basis. This condition, commonly referred to as Imposter Syndrome, is marked by recurrent ideas of self-doubt and even self-loathing.

Surprisingly, some of the most well-known and powerful people are susceptible to this condition. Conquering these persistent beliefs may prove to be the most difficult task for many otherwise  high-achieving leaders.

A frightening 70% of people experience the condition at some point in their lives, which is characterized by a severe sense of incompetence despite obvious successes. Fortunately, leaders may arm themselves with techniques to deal with these emotions and overcome them, enabling them to lead with unflinching self-assurance. Learning everything there is to know about imposter syndrome and its causes is the first and most important step in starting this path.

What Triggers Imposter Syndrome?


An unrelenting pursuit of perfection is one of the main causes of imposter syndrome. Those afflicted establish unreasonably high expectations for themselves, striving for perfection in all tasks and fearing any flaws. When they fall short of these lofty standards, they see themselves as imposters, persuaded that their accomplishments are the consequence of chance or dishonesty.  These high expectations can lead to feelings of inadequacy, reinforcing the sense of being an impostor.

Societal Pressure

Imposter syndrome can be exacerbated by societal and cultural variables such as gender, color, or social background; these might amplify feelings of inadequacy. Individuals from historically underrepresented or marginalized groups may suffer more intensely as a result of social preconceptions and biases.

Fear of Failure

Imposter syndrome is frequently triggered by the dread of failure. People who have this type of syndrome frequently worry about making errors or falling short of expectations they have for themselves or others. This anxiety can be incapacitating, stopping people from taking chances or seizing opportunities that might foster their career and personal development.

Overcoming Success

Ironically, imposter syndrome can often be sparked by success and accomplishments. When people reach significant milestones or receive praise for their achievements, they may struggle with questions about the veracity of their accomplishments. This phenomenon, sometimes known as the “imposter cycle,” can lead to self-destructive actions and a reluctance to seize fresh chances and challenges.

Leadership and the Impostor Phenomenon:

Effective leadership requires the ability to inspire, motivate, and delegate responsibilities. Leaders need to keep moving forward despite not having all the answers. 

One of the main roadblocks preventing leaders from realizing their full potential doesn’t necessarily come from a lack of abilities or a weakness in character. Instead, it appears when people experience self-confidence issues and battle with feeling like imposters.

Consider a senior executive who has painstakingly ascended the corporate ladder, gathering plaudits and successes along the way. By all accounts, they have had a good career building up to their current position. However, when they are among peers in the executive suite, they may be weighed down by imposter syndrome like an invisible anchor.

They are now responsible not only for their personal performance, but also for the well-being and success of a whole team, department, or even an entire organization. The realization that more people are relying on their decisions and direction than ever before mostly amplifies the condition.

Despite their outstanding track record, they may be plagued with the uneasy notion that they haven’t completely earned their position and may ascribe their achievement to good fortune rather than aptitude or qualities. It’s as if they’re always in anticipation of being exposed as fraudsters.

Combating Imposter Syndrome

Fighting imposter syndrome is complicated in the realm of leadership. Even the most accomplished leaders can lose confidence due to the never-ending cycle of self-doubt and persistent negative thoughts. But a strong ally, a leadership coach, can assist in overcoming this demoralizing adversary to a great extent. And leaders should proactively seek active coaching to realize the extent of the condition and mitigate its effects.

Strategy 1: The Cognitive Reframe for Restructuring Negative Self-Talk

Imagine the interior of your mind as a huge, shadowy terrain filled with pernicious negative thoughts. With the help of leadership coaching, you can dissect and reorganize self-deprecating thoughts like you would with a fine-tipped scalpel. Coaches offer a useful perspective from the outside in a safe environment for growth. They are skilled at spotting these harmful thought patterns and working with you to replace them with a strong, confident mindset. 

Strategy 2 : Embracing Doubt and Failure – The Road to Resilience

Imposter syndrome frequently portrays uncertainty and failure as antagonists in your story, ready to hinder your development. These imagined adversaries, however, can become your buddies with the help of coaching. Coaches act as alchemists, transforming anxiety into a driving force for personal growth. Under their guidance, leaders learn to use uncertainty as fuel for progress and see more clearly that failures are stepping stones to success. This revolutionary perspective, once owned, can make leaders more ambitious and resilient.

Strategy 3: Finding Fulfillment Outside of Work – Finding Balance

In their constant quest for perfection, leaders frequently become victims of their own ambitions. Long work hours and the relentless quest for excellence can overshadow personal joy and bind self-worth to professional accomplishments. Enter coaching, your guide to establishing a balance between work and personal life. Coaches teach you how to set boundaries, freeing you from the constraints of overwork. This newfound equilibrium allows you to reconnect with personal passions and interests outside of the workplace. When your confidence is no longer linked to your work output, you will achieve personal and professional success.


For most, Imposter Syndrome may seem like an uphill journey, one that feeds on constant self-doubt and any impediments along the way act as fodder. The road to overcoming it varies for each person, but recognising the syndrome and taking active steps to work on it is the correct step. With self-awareness, introspection, and appropriate support, one can gradually emerge more confident, suppress self-doubt and persevere. 

Authored by Nishka Agrawal

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