Why you don’t want to feed the big hungry giant of impostor syndrome

Many leaders operate under a facade of having it all together while living in fear that one day, someone will discover they are an impostor in a nice suit! Feeling unworthy, incompetent or undeserving – impostor syndrome – is like a big hungry giant, who demands to be fed. It has an insatiable appetite for evidence to disprove our worst fears. But no matter how much we feed it, in terms of academic credentials, important sounding job title, money, car or the house we live in, it’s never enough. It demands more, more, more. We tell ourselves we’re not smart enough, confident enough, or attractive enough, and think maybe the next achievement, accolade or validation will finally satisfy the giant.

Just when we think we have conquered it, a new job, a large-scale project or the opportunity to play a bigger game has us right there again, up at night, worrying we will be revealed as an impostor.

Faye is an excellent example. When she started a big new role, she confronted the enormity of the challenge she was taking on. The place was a mess, and the culture was dysfunctional. She questioned whether she had what it takes to be a senior leader.

Self-help books suggested she fake it until she made it. However, she needed more than a swagger to save her from sleepless nights listening to her little voice of doubt.

Faye compared herself unfavourably to the mostly male leaders around the leadership table, who appeared confident and articulate. 

However, all is not as it appears. A survey discovered that being found incompetent is the number one fear of CEOs and executives worldwide.

In her executive coaching program, Faye realised learning and growing comes with the territory of being a leader. She needed to learn to tame the giant rather than trying to feed it. It meant shifting her focus to concentrate on her strength rather than indulging in trying to counter her litany of weaknesses. Faye has an exceptional ability to bring people along with her through her ability to develop a narrative that engages her team in an exciting, compelling future.

Faye dealt with her self-doubt not by trying to feed the big hungry giant of impostor syndrome, but by building on the value of her strength.

People now view her as a leader they want to follow because she has greater conviction about her own value.

🙋 What is your strength and how do you apply it? 🙋

Best regards, Brian

PS: I talked about impostor syndrome and much more with Mitch Mayne on this episode of IBM’s ‘Into the Breach’ podcast. Please share with any of your colleagues who would enjoy listening to it.