Chris Lorence: How to fight impostor syndrome

By Chris Lorence, ICBA

We’ve all had moments when we feel out of our depth. For some, no matter what level of success they’ve achieved, there’s a nagging feeling they are about to be found out. There’s a name for this: impostor syndrome. And according to studies, around 70 percent of people say they’ve experienced it.

The phenomenon was first given a label in the 1970s by psychologists Dr. Suzanne Imes and Dr. Pauline Rose Clance. At the time, they were looking at why successful women often attributed their success to luck, rather than ability, and why they felt like they would eventually be unmasked as frauds. Over time, it was observed that both men and women experience this kind of professional self-doubt, especially when taking on a new role or starting a new project.

For leaders, especially new ones, impostor syndrome may sound familiar. Insecurity isn’t something we often discuss, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The best way to deal with this kind of professional self-doubt is systematically.

  • Start by acknowledging that your impostor syndrome exists. Now that you know you’re not alone, it should be easier. Talk about it. Discuss your feelings with a mentor, coworker, close friend or spouse.
  • Admit that it isn’t based in reality. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone struggles at times. There’s a reason why you’re successful—sit with that.
  • Focus on the positive. Remind yourself of your accomplishments and recognize that you have expertise. Give yourself a pat on the back when things go well. Positive reinforcement builds confidence.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Don’t dwell on past errors. Figure out how you can do things differently next time.
  • Ask for advice or help if needed. You can’t know all of the answers all of the time, but you can find them.
  • Be prepared to take risks. Reframe your thinking. You’re not winging it; you’re being courageous.

Once you’ve recognized your own particular brand of impostor syndrome, you can turn it to your advantage. It may actually help you become a better leader. Knowing that you don’t have all the answers is an opportunity. Take your time to find them. Better still, work collaboratively with your team and lead them to the solution.

Admitting that you don’t have all the answers is liberating, and humility is a great quality in a leader. It allows room for growth, both for you and those around you. Just remember not to over-share your self-doubt with your team. Save that for private conversations!

And finally, consider this. What if you are an impostor? Sometimes the best results happen when we’re out of our depth. Get out of your comfort zone. Great things may happen.


Chris Lorence (chris.lorence@icba.org) is ICBA group executive vice president, member engagement and strategy

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