During a recent group of short ‘demo’ coaching sessions at the Festival of Work at Olympia (the Human Resources annual gathering in London) – I was surprised to hear a number of people in senior roles openly admitting they had ‘imposter syndrome’.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome a phenomenon where individuals doubt their accomplishments and progress, feeling like they are on the brink of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. It’s more common than you think – we often fear that we are the only ones experiencing self doubt, but you will be surprised at how many other people feel the same way.
I would like to break down the diagnosis of Imposter Syndrome, as it relates to NLP.
People may suffer from Imposter syndrome at work, yet feel quite at ease taking a management or leadership role at home, or in some social or community activity. If this is the case, in NLP there are some techniques that allow you to ‘borrow’ the qualities in a situation you feel at ease and ‘transfer them’ into a situation where you don’t. This is a remarkably powerful and relatively simple technique.
One executive shared that they felt imposter syndrome, but the coaching revealed that it actually only applied when they were promoted to manage an additional team who specialised in an area they didn’t have much expertise. Gaining more specifics helped the client to realise they didn’t feel an imposter generally as they initially claimed.
This same client understood that the problem was not only a lack of skills (that their team possessed), but also a belief that a lack of these specific skills made them a poor manager. This neatly leads to…
Opening up limiting beliefs is the ‘bread and butter’ of coaching. This client’s existing skill set was already highly technical, and a shift of belief was that leadership was indeed learning to manage people with partially alien skill sets, as leadership also encompasses managing across different functions.
Values are also a ‘why’ area. Another client who said she suffered from imposter syndrome also revealed a deep suspicion about hierarchies and she hated having power over people. She said she valued equality and fairness. Although these values seemed superficially positive, later she admitted they hid a belief that managers are megalomaniacs. I quoted Stephen Covey, “act or be acted upon” and she realised that this belief could be shifted and have her values honoured. She said, “I can be a kind and fair manager.”
Some other people said something deeper: “I just don’t feel it’s me, I was shocked when I got the promotion and it’s like a weird dream!”
In my view, good leaders have a degree of humility and humanity – it is strange to be put in a position of power and it takes some getting used to. However, if at some deep level you feel you lack the permission to be in that position, or you feel you do not deserve what you have – “I am not enough” – I would suggest a deeper dig into your past using some more advanced approaches from NLP or therapy to find out what happened, and if appropriate, shift that belief about yourself or your identity.
Another way to tackle it is…
For What / For who?
Once you connect to a sense of mission that others can share and buy into, this can provide the energy to align all of the above questions to serve a bigger calling or purpose. This, more than anything else, is the idea of service which can melt away imposter syndrome – you feel a leading part of a harmonising team that begins to build energy and results in an upward spiral of success.
This model I’ve used here is Robert Dilts’ Logical Levels, which is one of the most effective and widely used tools in NLP. The issues covered here are also covered in our forthcoming NLP Practitioner programme in London.
One last thought – I like modest leaders who take time to accept their new role. However, if you feel like an imposter for too long, other more ruthless people in organisations will spot this and take advantage, so after a reasonable time of living with imposter syndrome – it is worth coming on a course like ours to knock it on the head!