Are you an Imposter? How to identify, deal with and overcome Imposter Syndrome

Author Sarah Ingwersen
November 1, 2021

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome was first recognised by psychologists in the 1970s who were studying high achieving women and their feelings of inadequacy or anxiety. It is now widely recognised as disproportionately affecting people at all stages of their career – both women and men – regardless of their background, status or title. Michelle Obama and Sheryl Sandberg have both revealed that they suffer from Imposter Syndrome so if you are reading this, you are in good company!

A person with imposter syndrome often feels like they are a fraud or a fake and uses certain behaviours to compensate for the constant worry that at any moment, others will discover the ‘truth’ about them. Sound familiar? In fact, it’s estimated that over 60% of the working population have feelings of self-doubt in the workplace.  In addition, the upheaval of the covid pandemic may have exacerbated these feelings for some, with returning to the office and in-person meetings potentially leading to feelings of self-doubt. ​

Taylor Root hosted a webinar on Imposter Syndrome to explore what it is and why seemingly successful professionals suffer from it. Hosted by Sarah Ingwersen, Global In-house Partner at Taylor Root, we heard from Professional Coach, Kerry McLaughlin and then had a panel discussion with three prominent General Counsels about how Imposter Syndrome has impacted them and how they work around it;

Terra Potter, General Counsel, Hexcel Corporation 

Sarah Hemsley, General Counsel, Selfridges

Matthew Wilson, General Counsel, Fremantle

What are the five types of Imposter Syndrome?

  • The Perfectionist; sets impossibly high standards for themselves. Often paralysed by fear
  • The Superhero; tends to take on too much in an effort to show they measure up. Can sabotage their own success
  • The Soloist; views asking for help as a sign of failure or weakness. Values independence over need
  • The Natural Genius; feels shame if they don’t master something quickly. Avoids taking risks
  • The Expert; believes they should know more than they already do. Procrastinates

What is the Imposter Syndrome Cycle?

  • Fear; increased self-doubt, fear of being found out on the next task, fear of being asked to do a task/source
  • Task/job request; causes anxiety and self-doubt
  • Procrastination/over-planning; both behaviours fuel anxiety
  • Task completed; feelings of relief and accomplishment
  • Receive feedback; discounts positive feedback, believes you were lucky / they were being kind / someone else would have done a better job / I didn’t do much

What tools can help overcome Imposter Syndrome?

  • Keep a positive belief record or tracker
  • Change the narrative
  • Acceptance and understanding
  • Work with a coach
  • Be consistent
  • Mindful exercise

Thank you to Kerry McLaughlin Coaching for sharing her research on this topic and to our panellists for sharing their insights and experiences.


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