Imposter Syndrome & How It Impacts Our Ability to Lead
By Audrey McGuckin, CEO, WOTW -
This International Women’s Day (IWD) we hosted a discussion around equity and inclusion (watch/listen to our IWD webinar here). During our session, I challenged the attendees to set aside 15 minutes to reflect on 3 things they loved about themselves and physically write those things down. We put this challenge out to our social network, clients, and contacts. This exercise wasn’t arbitrary or random. Throughout IWD and many other sessions with women leaders, we find that women struggle with imposter syndrome and confidence, and they want to know a path forward. Reflecting on what you love about yourself is a great place to start.
We gathered the words women shared and created a word cloud of those messages. The characteristics women most loved about themselves were that they are funny, loyal, resilient, and compassionate. There were many other words women shared with us and these words show us a lot about the powerful mindsets of our women leaders.
Beyond the words submitted, we found their responses very interesting: Almost all said that it was a very hard question that they needed to think about. Some said they couldn’t answer it. Multiple people said they needed to ask others for input.
What I found most interesting was that many women said it was really uncomfortable to share what they loved about themselves out of fear that other people wouldn't agree.
One woman shared, “It was hard to reflect on this. It’s uncomfortable as I criticize myself more than I see the good. As I was contemplating my words, I wondered if others would see them, or experience them, when they’re with me.”
Another said, “I shared the things that are most obvious to others, what they love most about me. However, as I thought about it more, these aren’t weren’t the things I love most. I love that I am smart.”
This right here is imposter syndrome, one of the key things that holds women leaders back.
Imposter syndrome keeps women from honoring their true nature, celebrating themselves, and striving for more. It’s seen at every level of experience and every level within an organization (i.e. just because someone is a CEO it doesn’t mean they don’t feel the pull of imposter syndrome at times).
In other words, confidence plays a role whether you’re at the beginning of your career or if you have decades of experience. We see it across the board and my goal is to help women leaders eradicate it.
Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “believing that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren't as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them.”
Imposter Syndrome is a systemic problem and the only way to solve a systemic problem is to address it and shine a light on it. To name the problem. To focus on it so much that it loses its power over us. When imposter syndrome is gone, women leaders can really begin to cultivate their vision and capabilities. They can go after their dreams. If we ignore the fact that imposter syndrome is there, the needle towards gender equality slides backwards (which we’ve seen lately).
The World Economic Forum says it’s now going to take 132 years to close the gap (that’s up from 108 a few years ago). That’s generational. Our perspective at Women On Their Way is that we need a new way or we get the same old results. We need to ground ourselves in the cold hard facts and make real change.
If we can peel off the layers and get women to see their truth and build their confidence, we can get rid of imposter syndrome once and for all. We can take that power it has and make it a super power for you.
It’s not the women’s fault. We live in a society where there is huge pressure to achieve. Where gender equality is not a reality. It's no wonder that imposter syndrome happens. And while it’s important to identify and dismantle the systems inside of a corporation that foster the imposter syndrome mindset, it’s equally important to give women the training to be authentic. We dove into how leaders can help women in their organizations gain confidence and break down imposter syndrome in a previous blog post.
Sheryl Sandberg, says it well. She states that “women systematically underestimate their abilities, women often attribute their success to external factors, and women don’t apply for roles where they don’t believe they fulfill all job requirements.” In other words, imposter syndrome plays a huge role in many of our lives and careers.
So, if you are a woman leader struggling with imposter syndrome, here are my top pieces of advice for dismantling those mindsets:
- Be vulnerable. Effective leadership requires you to be yourself, be courageous and bring your whole self to work.
- Challenge yourself to go beneath the surface. Uncover the learned patterns that created imposter syndrome for you and then slowly reframe those into positive messages. Look at your achievements and honor yourself and all that you have accomplished.
- Let yourself imagine possibilities. Dream big, Let yourself imagine where you would go in your career and focus on that.
- Ground yourself in your context. Honor how far you have come. Honor your wins. Look at your values and show yourself that you are not an imposter.
- Be confident and bold. Build your confidence. Also remember that NO ONE has all the answers so go for it. Go after your dreams.
Let’s get rid of imposter syndrome and take back the power of you. If you want to work to dismantle imposter syndrome in your life, check out our Navigator Program.