Imposter Syndrome. Is it real?
It’s funny how once we choose a label it sticks. We name our babies, and they somehow grow into their names. I think it’s the same with Imposter Syndrome. And I don’t think it’s helping us as leaders.
It sure seems to be sticking though. There are a lot of well-meaning authors, consultants, and leaders out there letting you know you have one and that it’s not ok. To get rid of it. To kill it!
Me, I think the label itself is hurting you. Because it detracts from your learning, your development, your growth, your happiness, your peace of mind, your joy, and your results.
Here’s an alternative I’d like you to try on.
Rethink your Imposter Syndrome as an essential “part” of you
That’s right a part. You have many, many parts, some you love, some you hate, and some you don’t even see or own (we call them your shadow). But every part serves you in some way.
The notion of Syndrome gives a feeling of a permanent condition. In fact, it flies right in the face of Dr Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset. According to Dr Dweck, people with “fixed mindsets” believe their skills, their talents, are based on a contained number of attributes. They are set in stone, like thinking “I have Imposter Syndrome” or “I am an Imposter” (Even if you don’t share this publicly).
Whereas those with a Growth Mindset don’t believe in set skills and abilities. They believe the more they try, the more they’ll learn. They push into unfamiliar territory. They’re always growing, always learning something new, and they know that the only failure is a failure to learn.
They know that along the way they are sure to have self-doubts, to beat themselves up, to wish they could have done it better. But they thank these voices and then move on. They know the voices may return but they don’t make a song and dance about it and they certainly don’t give it the grandiose title of IMPOSTER SYNDROME.
An Alternative View: The Psychology of Selves
The most powerful feedback I get from our coaching clients is that they get to know all the parts of themselves. It takes their leadership to a new level.
That’s right, according to Dr Hal and Sidra Stone, based on the work of Carl Jung, we are not one “self”. We have many different selves, hundreds of them, and they develop from everywhere. From our family of origin, our passions, our loves, our hates, and our experiences.
One of the most personal growth insights you can get is to unpack your different parts AKA your “selves”. Learn in what context they are useful, how to turn them up or down and how to give them a long vacation in some instances.
Explore your pusher, your controller, your perfectionist, your doubter, your imposter; literally hundreds of them. But never abandon them.
How do our parts show up?
All parts come in pairs. There’s always the tension of opposites. Your Imposter Syndrome is just one way that your Inner Critic (a part of you) surfaces. The part that tells you that you stuffed up, you’re not good enough and you could have done more with your life.
And yes, it’s the part that tells you you’re a phoney, that somehow you don’t deserve to be where you are and that you may be found out.
It’s a voice inside your head, sometimes just a quiet whisper, sometimes it’s a crescendo.
BUT DON’T GET RID OF IT.
As I said, I hear of well-meaning coaches giving you strategies to “kick it out”, “kill it”, and say goodbye to it forever.
NO! NO! NO!
Again, it’s a part of you, and every part serves you in some way.
IN FACT, I’VE NEVER KNOWN A SENIOR LEADER THAT IN SOME WAY DIDN’T HAVE AN INNER CRITIC PART.
I’D EVEN SUGGEST ONE OF THE REASONS THEY’VE DONE SO WELL IS BECAUSE THEY LISTENED TO IT.
But how the hell can your Inner Critic help you?
Because it grounds you and brings you back to earth, it gets you to seek out others’ opinions. It gets you in touch with your intuition, your gut feeling, and your deepest fears. It slows you down. Now I’m not saying it helps if it’s constantly running at 100%.
Let’s look at that.
If parts come in pairs, what’s the opposite of my Inner Critic?
Great question. Well, you can name it whatever you want.
I ask my coaching clients to call it their Inner Clever. (By the way, in coaching sessions we even get leaders to talk to these parts). Your Inner Clever is the part of you that knows it all.
It’s your “smarty pants” self.
It’s the self that knows what others are thinking before they do.
It’s the self that’s been there, done that.
It’s the self that has an answer for everything, often finishing others’ sentences.
It’s the self that has a model, a framework, a reference for everything everyone else ever says.
It’s the self that just knows and often comes across as a smart-ass.
It’s the self that’s the sum of all your experience, all your hard work.
Is it useful?
Absolutely, but like your Inner Critic, when it’s taken to excess, it can steal your interpersonal relationships and maybe even your career.
I often call the Inner Critic your “humility” part and your Inner Clever, your “hubris” part. And again, both serve you in some way. But how?
Well, if you accept that both are present within you, you’ll have much more chance of playing in the middle ground. That’s where another “self” lives – your Inner Coach.
Your Inner Coach listens to both, takes heed of the sirens of the Inner Critic, taps into the innate strength of your Inner Clever and makes much better, much more informed, and much more balanced decisions. It beautifully manages the tension of the opposites.
I don’t believe you. I’m going to kill my Imposter Syndrome!
Good for you. But I can guarantee the more you try to get rid of it, it will just keep popping back up with demonic energy.
IT HAS TO BE HEARD.
Because it loves you, it’s part of you. For Pete’s sake, it’s what makes you so loveable in the first place. It is just too loud at times. Can it be turned down? Yep. Should I try to “kill it” altogether? Nope!
Please, I beg of you!
Learn to honour every magical part of yourself. Tune into that inner voice, and learn to turn it up or down. Thank it for the part it plays. Share your vulnerability, and share your doubts.
Say you have a part of you that feels like an imposter. If you must. Not I AM an imposter.
It’s a PART. It’s not YOU and it’s NOT a syndrome.
Until Next time…
Find the passion.
Develop the skills.
Make the numbers.
Make a difference.
“APAC’s most respected transformational leadership performance coach”
Paul Mitchell (@Paul_S_Mitchell) is a speaker, author, transformational leadership coach and founder of the human enterprise. Through leadership coaching, leadership development programmes, keynotes and facilitation, Paul works with organisations to build cultures where everybody leads.