Leaders: 5 Ways to Shake off Imposter Syndrome

It’s the worst feeling in the world thinking that we are not really capable or talented or intelligent. Even though we may be successful in our professions and colleagues or clients may be thrilled with our performance, we don’t believe it. Instead of acknowledging our contributions or value, we make excuses for why we reached certain goals or milestones. We are unable to accept our worth and accomplishments.This is known as imposter syndrome and is not that uncommon. In fact, this week an Oscar winner, Viola Davis shared her deep frustrations in dealing with this very feeling. Here she was attaining the highest recognition of her outstanding acting abilities and she felt a bit undeserving. She knew what a terrific job she did in her role in “Fences” but expressed: “I still feel like I’m going to wake up and everybody’s going to see me for the hack I am.” Just like many of you, I too at times have felt insecure about my strengths and questioned taking on a new stretch project or working with someone in an unfamiliar industry. But there are very concrete behaviors and attitudes we can follow to help us when faced with these uncertainties in our careers.

Here are five ways to shake off imposter syndrome:


Step one in dealing with this syndrome is for leaders to be honest about what they are feeling. It’s perfectly fine to express our fears and concerns and how they might be impacting our choices. It’s always a good idea to allow our inside thoughts to come out and present themselves. To shake off imposter syndrome be aware first of your feelings.


When we are concerned about our abilities to handle a new project or participate in an unfamiliar experience, it is so helpful to reflect on how well we tackled similar situations in the past. We can lead by asking ourselves:
  • How can my past successes make this opportunity seem more manageable?
  • What strong skills that I already have can I use with this new endeavor?
  • How did I overcome my fears in the past when I faced uncertainty?
  • What does this new project or experience remind me of that I have already mastered?

    When in doubt, it is a great idea to reach out to someone we trust for guidance or a “kick in the pants”. Share your concerns with a co-worker, boss or even a friend who can help you talk through some of your fears. Choose an individual who can provide you with honest feedback and who knows your worth and abilities. This also might be a great time to locate a mentor as you move forward leading in your profession.


    A great quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt can be helpful here for leaders: “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself”. When we face our fears and put them in a proper perspective we can more easily take them on.
  • Say “yes” to a stretch assignment
  • Apply to be a speaker at that conference you have always wanted to address
  • Do thorough research in preparing but always trust you are highly capable
  • Stop hiding behind a mask of worry

    One of the best exercises a leader can undergo is to make a list of their gifts, talents and strengths. Think about where you have made the biggest contributions and where others have so valued your additions. There are many. See how you could bring those gifts to your next big opportunity. To overcome imposter syndrome leaders take stock in their gifts. How have you shaken off imposter syndrome? What steps have you taken to step out away from uncertainty?