Chapter 1

We All Feel Like An Imposter

Hello and welcome to our ten-week leadership healthy habits mini-series that addresses some of the most significant challenges leaders face in the workplace.

Winging it

Do you ever feel like you’re winging it at work?

Do you wonder if this will be the day someone finds out you’re not up to the job you’ve been given?

You’re not alone.

I’ve been leading teams and developing leaders for over two decades now, and I still feel like this on a fairly regular basis.

Imposter Syndrome

It’s called Imposter Syndrome, and my experience tells me that it’s a lot more common than we think. It’s one of the most common topics that I find myself helping even the most senior leaders with during our one-to-one coaching and mentoring sessions.

According to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science, an estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some stage in their lives.

Interestingly, Imposter Syndrome is often associated with high achievers, so if you are experiencing this, you’re in good company and are on track to becoming a truly great leader.

But getting back to my experience of coaching and mentoring senior leaders.

While many are willing to share this experience with me in private, they are reluctant to share these feelings in front of their colleagues.

Instead, we get up each day and put on our work masks as we leave the house. We arrive at the office trying to convince ourselves and those around us that we’ve got our s**t together when the truth of the matter is we doubt ourselves on the inside.

But just because we feel like an imposter in one aspect of our work, on one particular day, or in one specific meeting, it doesn’t mean we are an imposter. It simply means we’re learning and growing in our role. It means we’ve dared to take on something new.

One of the key themes I’ve identified from interviewing countless MDs and CEOs on my podcast relates to this exact topic. I heard time and time again how they sought out the most complex and challenging assignments – the ones that others shied away from – and it was these assignments that brought their most significant growth.

So what’s the answer?

Part of the answer lies in dropping the work mask and understanding that we do not have to appear invincible as leaders.

It’s ok to let our colleagues in and ask for help.

It’s ok to be a little vulnerable from time to time – as uncomfortable as that might feel.

And it’s ok to be human.

The reality is, though, being vulnerable takes courage.

It takes courage to say, “I’m feeling the pressure at the moment, and I could really do with some support.”

Perhaps more importantly, though, telling others what’s going on paves the way for them to do the same.

That’s authentic leadership, and that’s what real leaders do.

Leaders go first and show others the way.

Yes, as leaders, we need to inspire those that we lead. We know from Emotional Contagion theory that our moods and emotions are highly contagious. How we act as leaders have a direct impact on those around us, which affects their mood, productivity, and how well they collaborate.

So yes, we do need to manage our state so that we can inspire those around us.

But at the same time, we also need to let people know that we are human and need to allow ourselves to be human. We have to make sure that we’re looking after ourselves in order to look after those that we lead.

Leaders go first

Towards the end of 2017, my good friend and coach said something to me that is still at the front of my mind.

“You need to be careful of Mr. Perfect Syndrome. With all that you do, people may not connect with you as deeply as you’d like them to because all they see is everything that is perfect in your life.”

Well, I’m human too.

I’ve had plenty of wobbles over the past few years and have felt like I’m playing ‘dress-up’ as a business owner.

On numerous occasions, I’ve experienced the thoughts and feeling most commonly associated with Imposter Syndrome. Thinking I’m not as competent or intelligent as others think I am – and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about me.

But having these thoughts doesn’t make them real for you or me.


Further actions

Listen to this podcast

Tackling Imposter Syndrome with Cass Dunn - Episode 122

Cass Dunn is a Clinical & Coaching Psychologist, mindfulness meditation teacher and host of one of Australia’s highest-rated wellbeing podcasts, ‘Crappy to Happy’.

She is also the author of three best-selling ‘Crappy to Happy’ books – all aimed at helping people find more meaning and joy in life, work and relationships.

Cass also has an Audible Original called ‘The Imposter Solution’, which outlines her 5-step framework for overcoming imposter syndrome and cultivating unshakeable self-confidence.

Tackling Imposter Syndrome with Cass Dunn

Book Recommendation

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

John C. Maxwell’s “The 21 Laws of Leadership” stands as a cornerstone in leadership literature, offering timeless principles that can be personalised to enhance one’s leadership abilities.

Maxwell’s emphasis on ‘laws’ rather than ‘how-to-checklists’ encourages a deeper understanding of leadership, focusing on being a leader rather than simply following a prescribed model.

The book is replete with profound insights, highlighting the importance of personal integrity, individual connection, and sacrificing for the greater good. Maxwell underscores the significance of connecting with people on an emotional level and gaining their buy-in before presenting a vision.

Two laws that resonate particularly are “The Law of Connection,” which emphasises the importance of emotional connection in communication, and “The Law of Buy-In,” which asserts that people invest in the leader before the vision.

Maxwell’s principles find resonance not only in organisational leadership but also in broader contexts such as political elections, where the leader’s credibility often precedes their vision.

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