By Ashton Bishop, CEO at Step Change
What is the number one fear leaders have? It’s being found out—having a perceived incompetency uncovered. This fear is called impostor syndrome.
If you have these concerns, you are not alone.
I had mild dyslexia as a child, and it made me feel stupid. School was punishing. Even through my 20s and 30s, no matter what I did, I often felt the fear of being found out. I felt like an impostor. I was never enough.
To counter these feelings, I focused on achieving things. I signed up for taekwondo and was awarded a black belt. I joined athletics clubs and won a state title. I earned a law degree. When I started working, I rose up the ranks in the corporate world—from office junior to account executive, to account manager, to account director, to group account director and, ultimately, to CEO.
Still, it didn’t matter at what level I was performing at. I still felt stupid. I still felt like I was going to be found out, and I was still unsatisfied with what I had accomplished. My drive to achieve came from a need to prove my self-worth and maintain the façade of my abilities.
These feelings are common in individuals who are experiencing imposter syndrome. They frequently intensify during times of significant decision-making, and the consequences include unnecessary deliberations, inappropriate delegation or, perhaps worst of all, ongoing second-guessing.
How to Manage Impostor Syndrome
1. Realise the power of perspective. The real issue here is not experiencing impostor syndrome. It is believing that no one else does. The truth is, just about every successful person has had it in one way, shape or form. It’s normal. It’s human. It’s a part of life. It’s just not talked about.
2. Stop the self-judgement. American psychologist Marty Seligman is known for his work in the field of positive psychology and learned optimism. He explores how people create learned helplessness through their adopted narrative style. Making negative thoughts or events personal, permanent or pervasive ultimately fuels impostor syndrome. If you can separate your judgement from your self-worth, you can beat imposter syndrome.
Understand that your self-worth should be, and is, a constant. Without judgement, grant yourself permission to be who we are. Outcomes don’t make us more or less valuable. Once you’re able to do this, you are free to bring your best to any situation.
3. Focus on wisdom rather than results. Focus your attention on input, not outcome. Next time you find yourself focusing on the result, mindfully shift your attention back to what you will or have learned. The game shifts when you divert your focus to seeking wisdom rather than tallying successes and failures. Suddenly, your mind is not thinking about the future or focused on fear. It is in the present, which means you are able to perform at the level you hope to perform.
It also helps to surround yourself with people who have experienced what you’re going through. I’m fortunate to have found myself many friends and mentors through networks like Entrepreneurs’ Organization and The Executive Connection. These are forums of honesty, where I can be who I am and learn from other people’s wisdom.
4. Be aware of yourself and learn your triggers. Beating impostor syndrome is a practice, not a one-time solution. Being aware of the situations and the thoughts that challenge me allows me to observe impostor syndrome rather than being overtaken by it. I allow myself to feel the negative thoughts, but return to my power and focus on what I’m doing with my best self. Being 100% in the moment doesn’t leave room for second-guessing.
Coming Out on Top
Imposter syndrome still comes to visit occasionally, but only as fleeting and passing thoughts. I no longer suffer from it. With practice, I’m able to get back to my best—back to the moment—and to just enjoy whatever I’m doing.
Remember, you are not alone. So stop judging yourself. Rather, change your perspective and seek wisdom instead of achievements. Exercise your analytical self-awareness—you will soon realise that this is something you have control over. Practice and repeat.
Leaders need to be on top of their game, to be the best versions of themselves all the time, not just when they feel like it. Interestingly, I now teach business leaders and rising stars the operating system for leadership in the age of disruption. It’s called Powerful Presence. For me, this was the ultimate test case in getting myself, and my impostor syndrome, out of the way so that I could meaningfully help others.