Personal Development

Leadership and Management Development

So, here I am, standing to the right of the stage waiting to be introduced to 60 senior L&D professionals. My presentation is titled ‘Leading the Ever-Evolving Workplace’ and right there in the back of my head that destructive voice starts creeping in… ‘these L&D professionals know their stuff’, ‘what value can I add?’, ‘they’ll already know what I know’, ‘most are more qualified, experienced and would deliver this better than me’, ‘I’m a fraud and I’m going to get called out’.

Just as I clocked my exit and considered making a run for it, I heard my name being called and that was that, my freedom of choice had been removed – I had to get on stage and just go with it..

I also know exactly what’s going on here. I’ve coached others with a similar issue and know the tools and techniques to get my head back in the game so why does this Imposter Syndrome keep lurking in the depths of my psyche?

Imposter Syndrome was first coined by two psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanna Imes back in the late 1970’s after spending years counselling senior and highly credible professors, administrators and students, who were extremely concerned about being exposed as frauds. These reputable and respected individuals claimed that their success was down to overworking, others promoting their abilities or just being lucky.

It has been observed that Imposter Syndrome disproportionately affects people from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in their industry. Clinical psychologist Emily Hu notes that ‘We’re more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field.’

It's a challenging issue and it can affect anyone, in any industry and at any level of their game. Maybe you're just starting out in your career and think everyone else knows more than you? Maybe your career has advanced beyond your expectations and you feel guilty that you haven't done enough to deserve your success? Or perhaps "success" is something that you only really see others achieve

I have been working in the leadership development arena for over 16 years, continuously learning about a wide range of relevant subjects and maintaining and improving my professional qualifications in my field. I have co-founded a rapidly growing company and to date, have never received bad feedback from a client (said whilst touching wood). Yet I still question whether I’m good enough to be standing in front of people sharing knowledge and supporting their personal and professional growth - I even open up sometimes and explain how I'm feeling to some groups who might be challenged by a similar experience and they always confidently say ‘well it doesn't show’.

Imposter Syndrome is a curious experience where you feel that your success is not a result of your own efforts and ability, but rather luck or concealed information.

Imposter Syndrome is not an illness, and it does not put your professionalism, capability intellect or attitude into question. Just because that dastardly little voice speaks up when it’s needed the least it doesn’t mean you’re any ‘less’ than those around you. In fact, it’s likely they’ve got a similar one too.

Let’s reframe this.

In reality, Imposter Syndrome can often be a driving force for success as it leads to extra effort, hard work, persistence, dedication and a humble attitude towards your success or position – it could be that your Imposter Syndrome is your superpower.

On the other side of the scale to ‘feeling like you’re a fraud and going to get busted at any moment’, we have the Dunning-Kruger Syndrome which is a cognitive bias where individuals mistakenly assess their ability as much higher than it really is. This typically occurs when the individual lacks self-awareness or has become egotistical.

This cognitive bias can lead to underachievement, mistakes, bad working relationships, maverick types of behaviour and decisions being made on little or no evidence – now I know which syndrome I’d prefer to have and it’s not the one where I’m overplaying my abilities and setting myself up for a fall.

You might be able to spot someone who suffers from Imposter Syndrome because they tend to exhibit certain behaviours, such as:

  • Self-deprecation; constantly putting themselves down and referencing failures.
  • They lack belief in their skills and competencies and avoid assertive language when describing how they might approach a task, project or presentation
  • They may seem overly humble and not want to take the credit for their work.
  • They may avoid social events because they feel like an outsider

On the other side, someone with a tendency to overcook their abilities with Dunning-Kruger might have certain behaviours that are noticeable by others, such as:

  • Someone who is overly confident about their abilities even if they've never really proved themselves.
  • They can be very vocal in group environments with a disregard for social cues or an awareness of the impression they are giving off.

Of course, there’s a dynamic relationship between these two and it's a fierce balance that's never static. In fact, many people change from one to the other throughout the day or depending on their environment, their emotions and perceived confidence of the job in hand.

If you’re wondering whether you’ve ever had Imposter Syndrome, ask yourself the following questions:.

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Do you let small work-related mistakes fester and look for flaws in your work a lot of the time?
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Do you recognise your success to be down to outside factors, luck or other people’s generosity?
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Does constructive criticism cause you pain, rather than seeing it immediately as an opportunity for growth?
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Do you feel like someone is going to expose you as a phony?
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Do you play down your own abilities and achievements?
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Do you find it hard to accept compliments?

If you answered yes to these questions, it’s likely you’ve experienced Imposter Syndrome on more than one occasion and your self-perception differs significantly from how others perceive you.

The good news is that Imposter Syndrome is curable and, there’s some simple steps you can take to get on top of it and relieve yourself of the shadowing doubt.

Step one – Acknowledgement

Your inner voice plays a big part in Imposter Syndrome and causes emotions to run high. The first step to healing is hearing your truth. When you notice your inner voice questioning your place at the table, become objective and challenge your doubts. Hear the feedback you’re getting and ask yourself when has someone else given you similar feedback. Imposter Syndrome is an internal state that we create ourselves and by separating fact and fiction we can change the emotion.

Step two – Phone a friend

A problem shared is a problem halved. Talking to a friend or colleague can relieve some of the frustration and bring a new awareness to how you're feeling. When talking through something we’re struggling with we almost go through a process of self-therapy. Just hearing ourselves talk openly about something helps unpick some of the difficulties we face. By talking to others you’re also normalising the condition and helping others who might not be as far down the road of recovery.

Step three – Break the habit

Like most things, Imposter Syndrome is habitual thinking and in order to deal with it, we need new ways of looking at it:

<p>As Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy”</p>

Stop comparing yourself to others.

As Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy”

<p>You’re at the table and you’re good enough</p>

Show self-compassion.

You’re at the table and you’re good enough

<p>identify, list and keep a visible record of what you do well and when you’ve succeeded</p>

Take a strengths-based approach.

identify, list and keep a visible record of what you do well and when you’ve succeeded

<p>Striving for perfection causes procrastination and as human beings we’re not designed to be perfect</p>

Accept imperfection.

Striving for perfection causes procrastination and as human beings we’re not designed to be perfect

Imposter Syndrome can be stifling. It can cause anxiety, stress and hold you back in your career and in your relationships. We all too often just accept how things are and don’t invest time in our own development or building of confidence.

Finding a coach, mentor or peer to talk through your false perceptions of self is really useful and will only ever bring a great new insight to how you see yourself.

After all the doubt and self-deprecating thoughts, I got into the swing of my presentation and, based on the applause and immediate feedback, it wasn’t too shabby… although I spent the next few hours wondering what didn’t land well and what I could’ve done better – and so the story goes on!

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James Hampton (He/Him)

James Hampton (He/Him)



Our areas of specialism.


  • Self-awareness

  • Resilience

  • Personal Development

  • Change

  • Decision making

  • Growth mindset

Team development.

  • Hybrid team working

  • Communication

  • Meetings

  • Feedback

  • Collaboration

  • Trust

Leadership development.

  • Leadership styles

  • Psychological safety

  • Leading change

  • Mission, vision, values

  • Culture

  • Mentoring