Do You Lack Self-Confidence and Feel Like an Imposter?

The Imposter Syndrome

The Imposter Syndrome

We often meet with executives who want training because they feel they’re not polished presenters. Or, they don’t believe they’re skilled enough in media interviews.

But after talking with them, we learn that what’s really going on is that they’re lacking in self-confidence.

The Imposter Syndrome

If you often feel like a fraud, then you’re suffering from the imposter syndrome. It’s not as bad as a case of shingles, but can be just as painful. Most people, at one time or another, feel like imposters. What am I doing in this job? I’m not good enough.

Thinking about yourself that way will hurt your career.

If you’re suffering from the imposter syndrome, then you don’t see yourself the way other people see you – on top of your game. Others admire your knowledge, accomplishments and leadership qualities.

That’s how they see you, but not necessarily how you see yourself. So when you’re in a meeting where the participants are tough, or combative, you may not rise to the occasion. You will show your discomfort in your body language (closed body, downcast eyes) and by not speaking up and presenting your opinion.

You torture yourself with self-doubt and ask, “Why would anyone listen to me?”

Playing With the Big Boys

Your lack of self-confidence may lead to your being passed over for a promotion that is given to someone who isn’t as skilled as you are.

We were in a one-on-one training session with a highly placed executive at a major corporation. She’s very talented, but falls apart in meetings, especially if asked a question. Additionally, she doesn’t offer up solutions and literally shrinks and fades into the background when placed in the spotlight.

At a company event the chairman turned to someone and asked, “I see that woman who heads up research but I never remember her name!” She was devastated to hear that he didn’t ask for her by name even though she was on the executive team. Clearly, she did not make a memorable impression.

She obviously had the ability, but not the self-confidence, to become a star. She held herself back because she was afraid that the other executives in the C-suite were going to find out she was “faking” it all these years. Actually, she knew more than anyone else in the organization about trends and what the company needed to do to stay competitive.

When we were ending our time together, and after we talked about her next steps, my final three words of advice to her were, “Get over it.” Within a few days, I received a beautiful thank you letter in which the client wrote, “those three little words were just what I needed to move on and to stop feeling like an imposter!”

Positioning Yourself

“Get over it!” wasn’t meant to be harsh but rather to give her a wakeup call. You’ve got to be able to look at yourself realistically and position yourself in your organization as a “go-to” person. You do that by communicating your skills and accomplishments to the right people. You’ve got the job. What are you going to do to keep it?

Here are some suggestions to “get over it!” They are based on our working with hundreds of executives in helping them to overcome their lack of self-confidence when making a presentation or meeting with a reporter.

  • Do a self-appraisal. Be objective about your accomplishments. Write them down on a piece of paper. Tally up all your successes when you’re feeling less than confident about your abilities.
  • Stop apologizing. If you preface your remarks with “I’m sorry…” you diminish your authority. You’re the expert. People ask for your opinion because they value it. Speak up and express your point of view.
  • Do your homework. If you’re invited to a high-level meeting, or a media interview, be prepared with the key messages you want to communicate. Take a deep breath and join the conversation with confidence and conviction. You can refer to your notes if it will help to calm your nerves.
  • Offer an opinion. Avoid starting with the wishy-washy, “I think.” State your opinion forcefully. Don’t be afraid of verbal warfare. It’s part of corporate life. You’ll win some and lose some. But you’ll win more often if you enter the fray instead of running away from it.
  • Make the decision. When you have all the facts, make the decision. You will exude self-confidence even if you’re not feeling it.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. No one is perfect. If you do your homework and are prepared, there’s a good chance you’ll be right most of the time. Believe in yourself.

At a panel of high-level women executives recently, the president of a company division recounted her experience when she was a middle manager in a meeting with her boss. He gave her what’s called a “stretch assignment,” something beyond her current level of experience.

She confided in him that she felt she didn’t know enough to be successful. He looked at her and said, “Do you think I know everything? Most of us are just making it up as we go along! You’ll figure it out.”

It was a lesson learned that she used as a constant reminder as she moved up the ladder. No one knows everything. But you know more than you think.

If the imposter syndrome is keeping you from getting ahead, schedule a coaching session with one of our trainers so you too, can “get over it!”

2 comments to Do You Lack Self-Confidence and Feel Like an Imposter?

  • Great post. One thing I’d add: Executive-leadership coaching is an ideal tool to help executives and managers work through their imposter syndrome to achieve the outcomes they want. (Disclosure: I’m an executive-leadership coach!) kj

  • Thanks for the “get over it” wake up call suggestions! All good pointers designed to make us for effective communicators.

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