Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

September 22, 2021

by Martin Kettelhut

Imposter Syndrome


Imposter Syndrome

I meet a lot of executives and entrepreneurs, who intend to grow rapidly or make some other kind of big change:

  • Service substantially more households or assets
  • Bring on new partners
  • Target a new market sector
  • Build a strategic alliance with a related business
  • Manage the team better in-house
  • Cut workhours / spend more time with family

Facing unprecedented horizons like these, folks will often confide in me (the prospective coach) that they doubt themselves, their skills and preparedness for the new situation, and fear they will be exposed as a fraud.

This doesn’t just happen in business. Imposter Syndrome also comes up when you first become a

  • Spouse
  • Homeowner
  • Parent
  • Board member
  • Grandparent
  • Retiree

It even comes up interpersonally when you need to

  • Apologize
  • Forgive
  • Make a request
  • Acknowledge someone

Or, around taboo topics:

  • Money
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Race

No amount of self-reassurance can make the doubt go away, if the wrong person brings up one of these topics, and suddenly you’re unable to be yourself.
And no amount of catching up, filling in the experience, gaining knowledge or learning new skills can make the doubt go away, either. Imposter syndrome isn’t based on the truth regarding your skill or preparedness; it’s based on the critical relationship you have to yourself. You’re never enough.

“Okay,” you say, “but isn’t that a good thing, always pushing me to improve?” It’s great to be always looking for how you can improve. It’s quite another to live in fear someone’s going to find out you’re a fraud.
If you’d like to grow or change in some way, but doubt yourself:

  1. Recognize the logic of the situation:  of course you’re doubting yourself; you’re challenging yourself to grow.
  2. Focus on the quality of the change you intend.

Let’s say, for example, that for you growth means stepping into your full leadership. Set aside the self-centered conversation (“I’m a fraud, I don’t know if I can lead”), and concentrate on the experience you want for yourself and the people you’re leading:

  • Authenticity
  • Integrity
  • Enthusiasm for what we sell
  • Compromise for the sake of progress
  • Mutual empowerment
  • Fun
  • Excellence

We always get the outcomes we entertain in mind. If you doubt yourself, so will they. If you show vulnerability, so will they. If you get your attention off you/r self-doubt, and instead focus on the quality you’re bringing to the envisioned change, then you will cause the outcome you desire.

Tom was upset that people on his team were talking behind his back about how slow and deliberate his leadership was. Tom asked me what I thought about his giving the team what they asked for and demanding that they have their product’s 2.0 version ready by Christmas. You can see how that was a fast road to disempowerment and disintegration. I coached him to thank them for the feedback and request they all put their heads together, say everything on their minds about the product’s progress, and together design a faster way to move forward. Team members no longer talk behind Tom’s back now.

I’m happy to dig deeper into the growth or change you envision, and partner with you to remove whatever’s in the way to your progress.

Martin Kettelhut, PhD
303 747 4449

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