Female Imposter Syndrome
‘Imposter syndrome’ as a term never really existed when I was in my last leadership roles. It’s a recent addition to our vocabulary. Used to describe a condition that has been with us — men as well as women — for millennia. So much so, that it is part of the human condition.
I certainly felt this, especially in my more senior leadership roles. Constantly looking over my shoulder, convinced that someone would find me out or discover that I really wasn’t up to the job. And that caused huge anxiety for me and feelings of inadequacy. Constantly on the lookout, constantly shoring myself up and protecting myself against a possible ‘attack’ was physically, mentally and emotionally draining. Little wonder I felt exhausted at the end of the day…
All women have experienced imposter syndrome
Now, in my work with female leaders, I find all of them suffer from imposter syndrome to some degree or another. Those feelings of self doubt creep in when they least expect it…
Often the more senior a woman is, the greater her insecurity, self doubt and sense of being an imposter.
Even when a female leader insists she is not prey to imposter syndrome, I can hear it loud and clear in her use of language, her approach to her work and in many other ways.
Feeling like a fraud and chronic self doubt
How do you recognise female imposter syndrome?
Fundamental to imposter syndrome is the belief that any success you have is either ‘unearned’ or ‘undeserved’.
This leads to anxiety at being found out. You’re in a senior role and feel like you don’t deserve to be there. Surely someone will notice you are way out of your depth?
And when you do succeed, you’re even more agitated, feeling that it was only luck.
Feelings of imposter syndrome
There are a few key signs, and the best way to pick them up is by paying attention to your language.
A tendency to discredit yourself or to minimise your achievements:
“That was nothing special.”
“I’m just doing my job.”
“I just wanted to help out.”
“ I’m just … “ (I’ll leave you to fill in the blank.)
Your tendency to over credit others.
You find it hard, if not impossible to accept praise.
Your success is due to your connections, to the team, to some happy set of circumstances. Anything or anyone but you.
It causes anxiety. Leaves you feeling ‘less than’ and, consequently, can and does affect the quality of your work and of your leadership.
What can you do about it?
Create an environment that fosters a sense of belonging
Recognise that imposter syndrome is human. You’re not alone. We all live with it. And for most of us that ‘living with it’ is unconscious. When you make it conscious, you can shift your behaviour and deal with it far more effectively.
Understand the root cause of imposter syndrome. It’s an unconscious belief that runs something like this:
I’m not good enough, or possibly, I don’t deserve this (or to be here).
Know that you, indeed each of us, have created a compensating strategy to deal with such uncomfortable beliefs.
Unpick that strategy to understand your unconscious pattern. In the programs I run with high-achieving women leaders, we use two powerful processes to deconstruct imposter syndrome. (Indeed, any block that holds you back.) So we can get to the very heart of the problem.
You will then understand that you created this situation and how you created it.
This opens up myriad possibilities. Once you truly understand the nature of the problem, solutions are obvious.
For more about me and my leadership coaching, visit my blog here. You may also wish to join The Female Leader’s Collective on Facebook, where you can share your challenges, support and be supported by other women in the group.