Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome

I’m working with a client who was recently promoted in her organization, and as part of her new role, she attends upper management meetings. In this setting, she finds herself feeling insecure about speaking up. She realizes that not contributing could hurt her reputation and chances for advancement and other opportunities within the company.

“There are moments when I think about saying something or sharing an idea but I quickly stop myself, ” she explained. “Then, what usually happens next is one of my colleagues expresses the very idea I had and everyone praises it. How can I become more comfortable contributing in these meetings and stop the self-doubt and second-guessing?”

We began by exploring what was keeping her from speaking up. Through deep questioning, my client said she was afraid of saying something that would make her look bad in front of her peers and the C-suite.

I asked her what she meant by “looking bad.” She answered, “I’m afraid they will all find out that I am not smart enough or capable for this role and that I really don’t know what I’m doing.”

AHA! My client was experiencing the Imposter Syndrome, a limiting belief that she was inadequate, incompetent and a fraud – despite solid evidence of her career accomplishments and successes. This was what was keeping her from speaking up, and recognizing her fear was the first step towards releasing it.

I have coached a number of clients with this syndrome, and studies suggest that nearly 70% of successful people battle the Imposter Syndrome. Gill Carindale, in his article, “Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome,” says: "Imposters suffer from self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments; however successful they are in their field."

To help my client release the imposter, I introduced her to my three-step process:


AWARENESS – The first step is to pinpoint the core belief keeping the client thinking and feeling like a fraud. My client had already discovered her core, limiting thought: “I’m not smart enough or capable for this new role.”

CHANGE – Next, I asked my client a few questions on her belief:

How true is this belief? After thinking on this for a few minutes, she answered: “It’s not really true.”

How is this thought helping or hindering you? “It’s causing me to constantly second-guess myself and keep me from contributing in upper management meeting. It’s hurting my reputation and could hold me back from advancing in the organization."

What is the truth about your capabilities and successes? “Thinking of all of my career successes and accomplishments, I am completely capable and qualified for this position. I can do this job! Plus, I would not have been promoted if my boss didn’t think I was ready.”

“Great,” I said, “Now let’s dismantle the imposter by changing this limiting belief to a positive one that reflects the truth of you and your abilities.”

Client’s new thought: “With 15 years' experience in my department, I am fully capable in my new role and a valuable contributor on the leadership team.”

ACTION – In order to lock in the new, positive thought, I asked my client to come up with one action to demonstrate this new thought. She came up with two actions to anchor in the new thought:

  • First, she decided to write the new thought on a 3x5 card and say it throughout her day, every day. This was now her daily mantra.

  • She also decided to make a list of her career accomplishment to remind her of her abilities and achievements.

Through coaching and the ACA process, my client was able to release the Imposter Syndrome, gain confidence to feel more comfortable in her new role and find her voice in upper management meetings.

  • Remember to be aware of the limiting thoughts and feelings

  • Choose to change the limiting thought to a positive one, even if you don’t fully believe the new thought

  • Anchor in the new thought with an action step

Don’t worry if you fall back into your limiting thoughts. This is perfectly normal and apart of the ACA process as you anchor in a new, positive thought.

If you’re feeling like an imposter in your role and it’s getting in the way, I can help. Contact Megan@wallscareercoach.com to get started.