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Overcoming Impostor Syndrome in Leadership

Leadership is a transformative journey that involves growth, challenges, and self-discovery. Beyond just holding a position of authority, true leadership inspires and guides others towards a shared vision. However, the path to becoming a successful leader is not without its hurdles. One significant challenge many leaders face is "Impostor Syndrome," a pervasive feeling of self-doubt and inadequacy despite their achievements and qualifications.

Understanding Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome is not an official diagnosis but rather a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their accomplishments and fear that others will eventually discover their perceived inadequacies. They attribute their success to external factors like luck or timing, downplaying their skills and efforts. This experience of feeling like an impostor can lead to anxiety, stress, and a lack of confidence in one's abilities as a leader.

A Common Experience

Impostor Syndrome is more prevalent than one might think, affecting around 70% of people at some point in their lives, including leaders from various industries and professions. From seasoned executives to aspiring entrepreneurs, this phenomenon can strike anyone, hampering their growth and potential.

Manifestations of Impostor Syndrome in Leaders

Impostor Syndrome can manifest in leaders in various ways, often leading to self-doubt and a lack of confidence in their abilities and decision-making. One common manifestation is the tendency to compare oneself to peers and colleagues, believing that others are more competent and deserving of their positions.

The Four "Ps" Contributing to Impostor Syndrome

To overcome Impostor Syndrome, it's vital for leaders to recognize the specific behaviors known as the "Four Ps" that often contribute to self-doubt. By identifying and addressing these patterns, leaders can challenge and reframe their thoughts to cultivate a more confident mindset:

  1. Perfectionism: Leaders afflicted by perfectionism set impossibly high standards for themselves and fear judgment for even minor mistakes.

  2. Procrastination: Procrastination often stems from the fear of not meeting expectations or being perceived as inadequate, leading to last-minute efforts.

  3. Paralysis: Leaders experiencing paralysis fear making mistakes or being exposed as incompetent, leading to indecisiveness and missed opportunities.

  4. People-Pleasing: Leaders trapped in people-pleasing constantly seek external validation and downplay their achievements, attributing them solely to external factors.

Embrace Your Achievements: A Path to Confidence

Combatting Impostor Syndrome requires heightened self-awareness, and one powerful way to achieve this is through the development of Emotional Intelligence (EI). By cultivating EI, leaders can better recognize and manage their emotions, which is essential in overcoming self-doubt.

Practical Steps for Leaders to Embrace Their Achievements:

  1. Keep a Success Journal: Document your achievements, no matter how big or small, in a journal, notebook or somewhere that’s visible or easily accessible. This tangible reminder of your progress serves as evidence of your success.

  2. Seek Feedback and Testimonials: Reach out to colleagues, mentors, or clients for feedback or testimonials. Hearing others acknowledge your contributions reinforces your confidence. We sometimes need to be reminded of how great we are, especially when life and work feel tough.

  3. Reflect on Your Journey: Contemplate how far you've come in your career, the challenges you've overcome, and the growth you've experienced. Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) methodology to lay it all out.

  4. Embrace Positive Self-Talk: Positive self-talk is transformative, helping us challenge negativity, boost confidence, and nurture a growth mindset. Speaking affirmations sincerely in front of a mirror cultivates self-compassion and self-assurance. Create a list of positive, soothing, and compassionate phrases that can provide comfort and encouragement during moments of distress or self-doubt.

  5. Share and Celebrate Successes: Don't be afraid to share your accomplishments with trusted colleagues or mentors. Celebrating achievements with others fosters confidence and builds a supportive network.

A Call to Action

If you resonate with the experience of Impostor Syndrome, remember that you are not alone, and it is possible to overcome it. Act today to heighten self-awareness, challenge the "Four Ps," and embrace your achievements. By doing so, you will equip yourself with the tools to shift your mindset from doubt to confidence, leading with authentic assurance in your leadership journey. Remember, you have everything you need to be a successful leader. Embrace your potential with confidence.

Carolyn Mozell is a highly experienced and accomplished leader, serving as a mentor to individuals and a problem solver to organizations. As a certified DISC Communications and EQ Practitioner, she specializes in optimizing leadership communication, employee engagement, and hiring outcomes anchored in strong communication and emotional intelligence competencies. She's available to help you set up an audit of your hiring practices, take a DISC or EQ Assessment, gain insights from your team through a survey or achieve your professional goals though coaching. Schedule a consult to get started HERE.

This article was originally published in Careers in Government.

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