When we start to dig into it, the root issue for the majority of my coaching clients, is their own limiting beliefs. Of course, in most cases, my clients don’t come to me and say, hey Vicki, I think I have Imposter Syndrome, can you help make it go away? If they did, there would be little need for coaching and I wouldn’t be writing this post now!

Let me explain why.

These limiting beliefs show up in many ways such as a lack of confidence, a belief that they don’t have the necessary abilities or experiences for whatever they are embarking on, a feeling of not being enough, feeling undeserving of their achievements, a sense of not fitting in or not belonging, a negative self talk which says they don’t know how to do something or that someone else can do it better.

Many relate to these limiting beliefs as Imposter Syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome?

The concept was identified by two clinical psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. They defined Imposter Syndrome as:

“the condition of feeling anxious and not experiencing success internally, despite being high-performing in external, objective ways. This condition often results in people feeling like “a fraud” or “a phony” and doubting their abilities”.

The negative impact Imposter Syndrome can have

The sensations outlined above can lead to more harmful patterns of behaviour in an attempt to overcome. Feelings of inadequacy or incompetence, as well as causing anxiety in themselves, can cause people to work harder in a futile attempt of continually having to prove themselves. Those that have ever experienced this report a sense that time is running out, that they will be found out as not being worthy of whatever role they are fulfilling, exposed as a fraud. They may operate in a state of hyper-diligence, working long hours and going to extreme lengths to get everything done, even when it may not be called for.  Those of my clients who have experienced Imposter Syndrome suffer from burnout, stress and exhaustion by trying to keep up what they perceive as the level of performance that is required. Others I have worked with have demonstrated self-sabotaging behaviours where they place an wholly unrealistic expectation of an outcome on themselves which would be impossible for anyone to achieve, or, they behave in such a way so as to thwart the outcome they are aiming for. Usually, this behaviour is unconscious, which can make it all the more painful and challenging to understand and come to terms with, without the right support.

Some may recognise Imposter Syndrome for what it is and know how to face it. However, often, the complex emotions of self-doubt, worry and anxiety, fear or dread, despondence and inertia or sometimes sadness and depression that can accompany Imposter Syndrome can feel unfamiliar, uncomfortable, threatening even. Experiencing these emotions can put you into a state of heightened stress and can even trigger the fight, flight or freeze response in more acute circumstances. Or, perhaps you experience a low level anxiety but you can’t put your finger on what it is in order to address it.

Imposter Syndrome can be crippling if left unmanaged. The negative self talk can get louder to the point where self doubt becomes so real that we are not able to to take the next step with our business or career. This can be devastating for a leader and can be devastating for an organisation if the leader is unable to take the right course of action when needed. Even more so for leaders of teams whose behaviour sets a standard of work that isn’t sustainable for the leader, let alone for their teams. Sadly, this can lead to toxic work cultures. A topic I’ll return to another time.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

The more self-aware we become, the more we can begin to re-frame our thoughts about our limiting beliefs. Entrepreneur, Investor and BBC Dragon Steven Bartlett welcomes Imposter Syndrome as an opportunity for growth. Steven talks about how these feelings of discomfort are evidence that we are pushing out of our comfort zones into better versions of ourselves which can feel uncomfortable as we move away from familiar old ways of working to new and unfamiliar ones.

I don’t disagree although I would refer to Imposter Syndrome as an acute and chronic experience of limiting beliefs and self-doubt which manifest over a period of time. I think it’s very hard to go from this kind of extreme or ingrained Imposter Syndrome directly to a growth mindset. In such cases, it’s more about moving towards a more realistic outcome which begins by becoming aware of these limiting beliefs, noticing them for what they are, understanding why they exist and what the root causes are for these beliefs and by identifying the triggers which can then be de-sensitised. Over time and with the right support, I do believe that its possible to go from Imposter Syndrome to a growth mindset, and that this can be achieved in a way which is long-lasting, well beyond any coaching intervention.

Leadership coaching with me can help you to get really clear on the limiting beliefs you are experiencing. I can help you to identify your strengths and can help you to get so comfortable with your own authentic leadership style that you’ll be able to navigate the most complex of challenges. You’ll be provided with tools and strategies that you can take with you in to future roles and experiences. All so you can get the results that you are looking for, be that to secure your next elevated role, scaling your business, leading new teams through a complex challenge. Leadership coaching with me can help you to accomplish all of this.

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