Have you ever passed up a dream job, a book deal or a seat at the table because you felt too unqualified or undeserving? Do you perform well and then chalk up your success to sheer luck or a fluke? If so, you might suffer from imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome, coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, is a phenomenon that occurs in those who are unable to internalise and accept their successes. It’s a nagging feeling that tells its sufferers that they’re not good enough, that they don’t belong and/or that they’re unworthy. It’s a critical inner voice that keeps them playing small.
"In our psyche, we are not one," explains ‘Gift Spotter’ and Leadership Educator Kristyn Haywood of People for Success. "We have different values. If those values don’t talk to each other, then sometimes they will clash, and the strongest one will dominate. Imposter syndrome is when that dominant part takes over and has convinced you that you’re not good enough."
And an overwhelming number of its victims are female. KPMG’s 2020 edition of Advancing the Future of Women in Business: A KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report focused on executive women and imposter syndrome. It found that 75 per cent of executive women identified as having experienced imposter syndrome at various points during their careers. And nearly six in 10 executive women shared that the times they experienced imposter syndrome most was during promotions or transitions into new roles.
"I’m on a mission to help people retrain their critics, so they can show up, be big and bring compassion to business. For without compassion, businesses will fail." Kristyn Haywood, ‘Gift Spotter’ and Leadership Educator
Kristyn says she suffered imposter syndrome for most of her life as a result of the societal constraints that have burdened females for ages. "As a child, I was criticised quite heavily for things like being too noisy, too talkative, too emotional, too outspoken," she shares. "Like a lot of females, I was socialised to believe all of those things were bad. Girls shouldn’t be those things."
Of course, no matter how hard she tried to hide these traits, they continued to pour out of her. And the day she stopped trying to cover them was the day she took her first step on the path to freedom.
"All of those traits were a gift. They are who I am," Kristyn says. "When I began to put them to work for me as a leadership educator and treated them like the strengths they were, that’s when I finally came home to myself."
And now, she’s looking to help others do the same with her latest leadership program, Lead with Confidence: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome. An all-encompassing offering, Kristyn’s program features a one-day workshop, a leadership coaching circle, a strengths debrief and a one-on-one coaching session. Taking place in May and June 2021, the online program will help struggling participants appreciate their critical voice, show up to life in a big way and become the empowered leader they truly are.
In the workplace, imposter syndrome deprives organisations of a pipeline of leaders who are collaborative, humble and supportive – all sought-after, 21st-century leadership traits that many women harness naturally.
"We have a lot of big-hearted, intelligent, compassionate women who don’t show up because their inner critic is keeping them small," Kristyn explains. "I’m on a mission to help people retrain their critics, so they can show up, be big and bring compassion to business. For without compassion, businesses will fail."
Here, Kristyn offers an easy, five-step roadmap to help you start overcoming imposter syndrome today.
Steps to overcome imposter syndrome
- Normalise and acknowledge imposter syndrome.
- Listen to your inner critic.
- Find the flipside.
- Learn a new language.
- Practise, practise, practise.
Shine some light on imposter syndrome. Admit that it holds you back from playing big. And then talk about it, removing the shame and stigma attached to what so many suffer from.
What’s it saying? What qualities or traits does your critic think are bad?
What good has come from those so-called bad qualities? How have they helped you in your life? Find the treasure in each of the traits you labelled as bad.
No, not Spanish or French … you don’t need a Rosetta Stone to overcome imposter syndrome. But you do need to learn a new language internally. Speak to yourself with kindness and respect, understanding that there’s an inner child inside of you that is scared. Recognise her needs and give empathy.
Overcoming imposter syndrome will not happen overnight. It takes time, patience and practise to rise above and finally lead with confidence.