Will the real Mrs W please stand up? Banishing The Impostor in the room

 Earlier this week I was working down in London and took the opportunity to catch up with a friend. I inquired how her morning had been as she did not seem her usual bouncy self. She responded that she has had a couple of graduates working with her and went on to say, “You know V, sometimes I just wonder how I have got here (here is the CFO of a global organisation). I never went to university, haven’t got any degrees or spent years studying. I felt such a fraud”.

My friend has a professional qualification, has worked her way up the organisation where she has been for 12 years, is highly proficient, part of a small minority of women at her industry level, leads several global teams and is regarded as a very high performing and astute business woman. However, she is not alone in experiencing feelings of being a ‘fraud’ or ‘impostor’.

I have worked with a number of successful and high achieving women who admit to feelings of inadequacy, a fear of ‘being found out’, that they are not as knowledgeable, competent or skilled as others perceived them to be.

This is not the same as having a low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. The phrase “imposter syndrome” was coined by psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes who studied a group of successful women and found that they had high levels of self-doubt, an inability to internalise their success and felt that they got to where they did because of luck.

I can recall numerous episodes in my life where I have felt that I would be ‘found out’, and that sinking feeling of, ‘oh hell how did I end up here’. An early experience was in my NHS days sitting round a table with academics, advisors, experts, government officials…and me.  In creeps the, ‘they will discover that I don’t know much, they are much smarter than I am, they will find out that I am not as good as they think I am…” I made an excuse to go to the toilet and spent a few minutes reframing my thoughts.

More recently, I suffered  pangs of ‘intellectual fraudulence’ when giving  a talk about coaching teams despite having 15 years experience of working with teams, conducted and published research on the subject and holding a Master’s Degree in Coaching and Mentoring.

Some strategies that I and my clients have found useful include:

– Being aware of such thoughts and feelings and dealing with them immediately. Reframe to more positive ones

– Validate, appreciate and continually reaffirm your  achievements, accomplishments and successes

– Attribute your success to ability, hard work, resilience…and not just luck

– Accept that failing and making mistakes are part of life… if you are not doing these then you are not learning, growing or stretching yourself

– Recognise that it is impossible to know everything – if you don’t know, admit it

–  Share your feelings with others – you will be surprised how many others have similar feelings

– Refrain from comparing yourself to others

– Think about someone who has similar qualifications, skills, expertise, abilities, knowledge… would you call her a fraud or impostor…so why call yourself one?

Have you ever felt like an impostor or a fraud ?

Do you have a fear that you will  be ‘discovered’ as not being as good, knowledgeable or the capable expert as others think you are?

What strategies have you used ?

Join me for Coaches Connect   and Follow me on Twitter @verawoodhead

 Image by Google Images


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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