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Executive Coaching for Imposter Syndrome

Worldwide, the number of people experiencing imposter syndrome continues to rise, with factors such as work environments and culture having an impact. 


At The Leadership Coaches, we often hear leaders asking how they can overcome imposter syndrome. In this instance, we recommend executive coaching. 


In this blog, we offer insight into the types of imposter syndrome, how executive coaching can help, and share a case study from a client. 


What Is Imposter Syndrome? 

According to the British Medical Association, imposter syndrome, or imposter phenomenon, is “a feeling of inadequacy that persists despite evidence of success…”   


Imposter syndrome is also defined as a behavioural health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals


If you’ve ever experienced imposter syndrome, you may know it as that niggling voice in the back of your mind telling you things like: 


  • “You’re a fraud, you don’t belong here…” 

  • “You’re not experienced enough to be doing this job…” 

  • “Someone is going to find you out…” 

  • “You’re not good enough for this…” 

  • “Everyone else is better than you…” 

  • “Someone more qualified or experienced should be doing this…” 


Types of Imposter Syndrome 

Imposter syndrome isn't a one-size-fits-all experience; it manifests in various forms, each impacting our lives differently.  


In our ‘Overcoming Imposter Syndrome’ workshop in May, Director of Coaching and Learning Ian White shared that the four different types of imposter syndrome are: 


1. Perfectionism: A leader experiencing perfectionism imposter syndrome may constantly second-guess their decisions, believing nothing they do is good enough for their team or organisation. They might stress over details in their presentations or reports, fearing any imperfection will undermine their credibility. Similarly, a leader working in people development might excessively critique their training programmes, convinced they're not impactful unless flawless. 


2. Mastery: A leader grappling with mastery imposter syndrome may hesitate to delegate tasks or seek input from their team, fearing it will expose gaps in their knowledge or expertise. They might feel pressure to know everything about their industry or market, even though it's unrealistic.  


3. Giftedness: Leaders experiencing giftedness imposter syndrome feel like they should be more naturally talented, but they don’t feel as though they are. Instead, they have to work at it, often not getting it right the first time and needing regular practice. They assume that this comes easily for other people, leading to feelings of imposter syndrome. 


4. Independence: Leaders experience this type of imposter syndrome when they need to ask for help. Seeking support causes them to feel as though the work isn’t their own, leaving them feeling as though they are an imposter because they cannot do it by themselves and must ask for help. 


Who Experiences Imposter Syndrome? 

Imposter syndrome impacts people from all walks of life – yes, even the most seasoned of people in C-suite roles or leadership positions.  


Research shows that in the UK, 75% of female executives experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. Meanwhile, 45% of British men have experienced imposter syndrome at work. 


We share more about who experiences imposter syndrome and the impact of this in the below infographic. 


Overcoming Imposter Syndrome 

Navigating imposter syndrome can feel like an uphill battle, especially for leaders grappling with high expectations and constant pressure. However, there are practical steps you can take to overcome these feelings.  


Ian suggests three key tips tailored for leaders: 


1. Identify and Acknowledge:Begin by pinpointing the root beliefs fuelling your imposter syndrome. Is it the fear of failure, perfectionism, or the pressure to always have the answers?  


Name these feelings and accept them without judgement. Recognise the thinking patterns that perpetuate these beliefs and seek support from trusted colleagues, mentors, or coaches who understand the unique challenges of leadership. 


2. Lean Into Growth Opportunities: Embrace opportunities for growth by actively engaging in networking, seeking feedback, and fostering mentorship relationships.  

Constructive feedback from peers and mentors can provide valuable insights and perspectives, helping you challenge negative self-perceptions. Consider mindfulness practices to observe your thought patterns without judgment, allowing you to sit with uncomfortable feelings and gradually reframe them in a more positive light. 


3. Build Sustainable Habits: Take intentional action to build habits that promote resilience and self-confidence. Utilise insights from neuroscience to understand how your brain processes challenges and setbacks.  


Develop personalised strategies to navigate imposter syndrome, such as setting realistic goals, practicing self-compassion, and celebrating your achievements.  

Regular reflection and repetition of these habits will reinforce positive behaviours over time.  


Consider working with a coach who specialises in leadership development to provide guidance and accountability on your journey to overcoming imposter syndrome. 

By implementing these strategies and prioritising your mental well-being, you can cultivate a more resilient mindset and lead with authenticity and confidence.  


How Can an Executive Coach Help? 

Whilst you may not have considered it yet, if imposter syndrome has been impacting you or your people, working with an executive coach comes highly recommended. 

Many executive coaches, such as those within our team, have a wealth of experience in leadership roles and understand the challenges that leaders face.  

executive coaching in the workplace

But that’s not all. Having an executive coach and progressing through executive coaching: 


1. Provides Psychological Safety: Executive coaching offers a safe and non-judgemental space for leaders to explore their thoughts, feelings, and challenges. In this supportive environment, leaders can openly discuss sensitive issues, address vulnerabilities, and confront fears without fear of repercussion.  


2. Offers a Private and Confidential External Voice: Leaders often face complex decisions and high-stakes situations where seeking guidance from an impartial external perspective can be invaluable. An executive coach serves as a confidential sounding board, offering insights, perspectives, and constructive feedback tailored to the individual leader's needs. This external voice provides clarity, objectivity, and perspective, helping executives navigate challenges with confidence. 


3. Builds Change Over Time: Executive coaching is not a quick fix; it's a process-oriented approach to personal and professional development. Through regular coaching sessions and ongoing support, leaders can gradually implement sustainable changes in their behaviour, mindset, and leadership approach. Over time, this leads to lasting transformation and growth, both personally and professionally. 


4. Allows Vulnerability to Face Barriers and Limiting Beliefs: Executive coaching encourages leaders to embrace vulnerability as a catalyst for growth. By acknowledging and confronting barriers, fears, and limiting beliefs, many people find that they can unlock their full potential and overcome self-imposed limitations.  


5. Creates a Learning Space for Setbacks: In the fast-paced world of leadership, setbacks and challenges are inevitable. Executive coaching provides a supportive learning environment where leaders can glean valuable lessons from failures, setbacks, and mistakes. By reframing setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning, executives develop resilience, adaptability, and a growth mindset that fuels future success. 


6. Brings Challenge with Safety and Support: Effective executive coaching strikes a balance between challenging leaders to stretch beyond their comfort zones and providing unwavering support throughout the process.  


Coaches ask probing questions, challenge assumptions, and encourage self-reflection to stimulate growth and innovation. At the same time, coaches offer unconditional support, encouragement, and empathy, ensuring executives feel empowered to tackle challenges head-on. 


Case Study – Dealing With Imposter Syndrome 

In the ever-changing realm of today's corporate world, adapting to new roles and responsibilities is an inevitable part of professional growth. However, for many, this transition can be daunting, often accompanied by challenges such as imposter syndrome, indecision, and difficulty in delegating tasks.   

Man with imposter syndrome at work

Greg, a director, found himself at this crossroads, grappling with the need for a more strategic approach in his expanded role. 


Before embarking on the transformative journey of executive coaching, Greg candidly shared his struggles. The shift in his role demanded a shift in mindset, from a day-to-day approach to a more strategic one.   


This shift, however, triggered imposter syndrome, leaving Greg feeling uneasy about his newfound responsibilities.  



Contact Us Today 

At The Leadership Coaches, our team of executive coaches are on hand to support you and your people in overcoming imposter syndrome. 


Whether you’d like to discuss your needs or the needs of your people and organisation with us to determine how coaching can be transformational, contact us today by calling 03450 950 480. Alternatively, email to arrange a no-obligation call with a member of our Senior Leadership Team. 


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