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Managing your inner critic

Do you ever tell yourself that you don’t know what you’re doing and eventually someone is going to realise it? Say hello to your imposter syndrome...

As a leader, it's normal to feel like you don't always know what you're doing. After all, leadership is often about navigating new and complex situations. But what happens when that feeling of uncertainty becomes overwhelming? What happens when you start to believe that you don't deserve your position, that you're somehow not qualified for it, or that you're not as good as everyone else thinks you are? This is known as imposter syndrome, and it's more common than you might think.

So, let’s have a look at some of the causes and effects of imposter syndrome and strategies to help you overcome it.

The Causes of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can have many causes, but some of the most common ones include:

  • Traumatic experiences: Experiencing failure or criticism at a young age

  • Negative self-talk: Believing that you're not good enough

  • Perfectionism: Setting unrealistically high standards for yourself and feeling like a failure when you don't meet them

  • Overachieving: Being successful in many areas of your life, but feeling like you don't deserve your success

The Effects of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can have a number of negative effects, including:

  • Feeling like you don't deserve your position, which can lead to self-doubt and anxiety

  • Being overly critical of yourself, which can lead to burnout or becoming overly controlling

  • Avoiding challenges or opportunities to grow, because you fear failure or being exposed as a fraud

  • Difficulty delegating, because you feel like you're the only one who can do things right

Strategies for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

If you're struggling with imposter syndrome, here are some strategies that may help:

  • Recognise your strengths: Make a list of your strengths and accomplishments, and keep them to hand, reminding yourself of them when you feel imposter syndrome kicking in

  • Challenge your negative self-talk: When you start to hear that inner voice telling you you're not good enough, challenge it with evidence to the contrary, like the list above.

  • Share your feelings with others: Talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or coach about how you're feeling you may be surprised to hear that they feel it too sometimes.

  • Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, as you would a friend in this situation.

Encouraging a Culture of Transparency and Growth

As a leader, it's important to create a culture where teams feel comfortable discussing their struggles and mistakes. By demonstrating that it's okay to not have all the answers, you can help your team feel more confident and less isolated. Encourage transparency in your team's communication and make it clear that it's okay to ask for help or admit when you don't know something. Additionally, prioritise learning and growth. Make it clear that it's okay to make mistakes and that they're an opportunity for learning.

This is how I challenge my Imposter Syndrome.

To give a little context, around 12 years ago, I had been tasked to lead a big change at work affecting a number of different areas. At the time, I would imagine, most people would have described me as confident but for lots of reasons, I was already feeling very weighed down by imposter syndrome, although I didn't know that was what it was called at that time.

The head of one of those sections; Cedric, was unhappy and didn't want the change to happen but couldn't stop it, so he channelled his frustrations into making things as difficult as possible for me to do what I needed to do. He surreptitiously (and occasionally publicly) challenged my credibility to be leading the change and worked hard to undermine what I was trying to achieve.

Now of course, I can see that his behaviour actually had very little do with me and was more about him and how the change would affect his position and authority at work, but of course, hindsight is always 20:20, but after a very difficult 4 months, I did lead the change to a successful conclusion but not without some significant collateral damage to my self-confidence; feeding the beast that was my imposter syndrome.

Over time my imposter syndrome gathered momentum and it didn’t matter how well things were going I couldn't stop my imposter syndrome undermining me; stopping me trying new things, grabbing opportunities and asking for what I wanted but also making me push myself harder and harder to attain some a level of perceived perfection. I needed to do something to manage my inner critic.

It was a couple of years later, after many attempts to quash that inner voice, I wondered if it might work if I gave my imposter syndrome it's own personality and voice. For me, the obvious choice was Cedric.

This proved to be much more successful and works for me on so many levels, when I hear that voice saying those destructive things to me, I say to myself (often out loud) 'Be quiet Cedric!' this does two things; 1. it nearly always makes me laugh, which lightens my mood and 2. it reminds me that it's not me telling me I can't do it, it's Cedric and Cedric was wrong I could do it and did, so quiet Cedric!

The tips above are really useful ways to identify the causes and effects of imposter syndrome and some effective strategies for managing it but maybe figuring out who your Cedric is and practising telling them to ‘be quiet’ might help you too.

So whether it's being able to advocate for yourself, go for that next level promotion, get a pay rise or make a small or a big change in your life, what would you do if you could silence your Cedric?


I'm Leah

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