Have you ever received praise or a compliment for your work and felt like a fraud? If so, then you can join the growing number of professionals who struggle with Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome is an issue that affects many professionals, including 70% of Millennials, even the most qualified and successful CEOs and other C-Suite executives. It is characterized by a persistent belief that you are not as competent as you are believed to be, regardless of any praise you may receive.

With this in mind, it’s understandable why many people in high-pressure positions such as doctors, scientists, celebrities, and even CEOs like myself and many of East Tenth Group’s clients feel these pangs of fear and panic. Even though we may accolades and success, we continue to believe that we are undeserving of our achievements.

Impostor Syndrome and “CEO Guilt”

One of the biggest challenges faced by a CEO who struggles with Impostor Syndrome is the magnitude of every decision they make. Self-doubt causes every choice to feel more serious and negative than in reality.

Let’s look at an example faced by one of our previous clients: a CEO who was struggling with the guilt of laying off a large number of employees. As a result of their Impostor Syndrome, this individual was plagued by doubts such as:

  • Would I have been able to save these jobs if I’d been a better CEO?
  • Do I still deserve to have my job when I don’t deserve it?
  • Is the company failing because of my incompetence?

Of course, these questions are unfair because they place the blame and responsibility on the CEO themselves, instead of looking at larger organizational issues. This is a fundamental tenement of Impostor Syndrome: you believe that you are not as good as other people think you are.

It’s not just that you feel you’re incompetent; you feel like you’re a fraud.

Interestingly, even though Impostor Syndrome is often assigned as a “female CEO” issue, in truth these feelings are split relatively equally across the genders and all demographics. Anyone can feel like an impostor, but Impostor Syndrome may affect more women and people of color due to a lack of diversity within the modern workplace.

Managing Triggers

A report from the Harvard Business Review concluded that a lack of confidence may be a contributing factor to one’s success, so it’s understandable that many of the most successful CEOs have experienced these feelings.

Think about it this way: successful people are never satisfied and are always working to better themselves. When we expect only the best from ourselves we are often harder on ourselves as a result.

I believe that the key to overcoming Impostor Syndrome is learning how we recognize and react to our emotional triggers. Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

You’ve Experienced a Professional Failure

Experiencing a professional failure such as making a bad investment, mismanaging a merger, or failing to take much-needed advice, it can be easy to feel like you’ve been found out.

In this situation, we assume that failure is our default state, even if our failures have been few and far between, and we may feel like this event has been a long time coming. In this situation it’s easy to ascribe our successes to luck, and that this failure is a sigh of our incompetence.

You Feel You Don’t You Deserve Recognition

Many of us have been on stage, earned awards and accolades, and completed competitive programs. However, these successes may make you feel confused or undeserving.

You may feel as though this success is a fluke, and thoughts like: “if these people knew what a fraud I was they wouldn’t have given me this award.”

You’ve Accomplished a Major Goal

Many CEOs I’ve spoken with experience Impostor Syndrome once a large project or significant milestone has been achieved.

Many of us struggle to bask in the glow of success, instead choosing to continue the refrain that we don’t deserve what we’ve accomplished.

Managing Your Impostor Syndrome

We live in a world where many of us experience Impostor Syndrome, but as a CEO these feelings may feel crippling in a way that the average employee may not understand. CEOs and C-Suite leaders need to be especially self-aware in order to make decisions that are logical and not driven by emotion.

In order to begin managing your triggers, I suggest applying these tactics:

Talk to Others

Impostor Syndrome tells us that others perceive us in a way that is different from reality. By talking to others you can resolve the effects of Impostor Syndrome because they can help you recognize your challenges, but reassure you in your own capabilities.

Even better: by opening up and sharing you may discover that others around you also struggle with similar feelings.

Realize You Aren’t Perfect

There’s no such thing as a “perfect CEO,” and even the most qualified leaders and business experts make mistakes from time to time. Remind yourself regularly that your imperfections aren’t representative of you as a whole; they’re learning experiences that provide opportunities for growth and change.

Adopt a “Growth” Mindset

It can be tempting to focus on our shortcomings, but instead, I suggest focusing on the areas you want to improve. Whether that’s leading the business, managing teams, or investing in your development as a leader, focusing on continual growth is an excellent way to keep Impostor Syndrome at bay.

Everyone experiences moments of self-doubt. However, a truly successful leader can recognize their doubts and move forward regardless. Remember that moments of self-doubt are just that: moments.

If you’re a CEO or C-Suite leader struggling with Impostor Syndrome I recommend our Balanced Leadership Framework, which is a four-part program intended to educate and elevate CEOs and C-Suite leaders to achieve their true potential.

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