Imposter Syndrome: It’s a fraud and a fake

I was on a call last week with a fabulous charity CEO. She told me she’d never had any professional development in her ten years in the role, and that now it was time for her.

Imposter syndrome is fake news

I totally agree. It’s definitely time for her and I’d be honoured to start coaching with her, should she decide I’m right for her too.

On our call she mentioned that sometimes she feels like an imposter, just waiting for someone to find her out.

Despite 25 years in the sector and leading her current charity to dizzying heights she still feels that old tug of “I’m not good enough”, “other people would do this so much better”, “I’ll get find out”.

Her fears are so familiar. I’ve heard them many times in my years of coaching, particularly from those who aren’t getting much in the way of learning and development support. The pressures on leaders in our sector are immense and it’s no surprise many feel they’re winging it.

This poll from Scotland’s Third Force News shows how common these feelings are. As I write, it reveals that 81% of those who responded are suffering from Imposter Syndrome, defined as a “psychological pattern which causes chronic self-doubt and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, often despite repeated success and accomplishments”

Wow! That’s a lot of talented, committed third sector people not feeling too good about themselves.

I’ve experienced these debilitating thoughts myself, seen them in my clients and written two blogs on this topic (if you missed them, you’ll find those here and here).

With everything I’ve learned on my own journey and in my coaching, if I were running a workshop on Imposter Syndrome now, this is what I’d be teaching:

Imposter Syndrome is a fraud and a fake. It doesn’t exist except in your head.

But, what on earth to do about it?

1. If you do just one thing to tackle your feelings of being an imposter, learn to manage your thoughts.

Thoughts are powerful. They easily turn into strongly-held beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions about what is possible and not possible for you and your organisation. There’s no doubt about it – thoughts will definitely affect the results that you get. Go shower yourself with positive, affirming thoughts and see what a difference it makes.

2. Reframing so-called failures and mistakes into learning opportunities is a big part of managing thoughts. Nurture a ‘growth mindset’ and you won’t write yourself off as a fake when things don’t go so well.

The most successful non-profit leaders I know acknowledge when things don’t work out, grab the learning and move on without beating themselves up. It can be hard, but it’s crucial for not sinking into the self-fulfilling prophecy of not being enough.

celebrate your wins

3. Celebrate your successes, however small. I encourage all my coaching clients to keep a ‘success diary’ to boost belief in themselves.

Read over your achievements (both big and tiny) and remind yourself what a great contribution you make, especially when the ‘faking it’ feelings hit.

4. Connect with others doing the same kind of work. Isolation makes us super self-critical. When you share your journey with other leaders, you’ll get the support and validation that can be lacking more officially. Few leaders in my experience find time for these vital connections but they can be so affirming.

5. And finally, visualise what success looks like – for your organisation, for your team and for you. Make sure you plonk yourself slap bang in the centre of that successful image. I promise you, if you allow yourself to step into a positive future in your imagination, you’ll see yourself there doing what you’re good at and doing it excellently, making your unique contribution to the better world we’re all working towards.

Over to you

If you doubt your abilities and feel like a fraud, you’re not alone. And it’s time to do something about it! Take a moment to read those five tips again and then commit to making a change. Let me know in the comments below what you’re going to do.

What next?

If you’re struggling with self-doubt and need support, email me at katie@be-the-change.org.uk or give me a call on 07958 501 427 to see how I can help.

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