30 May 2022  •  Blog, Mental Health  •  5min read By  • Jayne Gibson

What is imposter phenomenon?

Practice Plan Area Regional Support Manager, Jayne Gibson, caught up with executive coach and founder of GuruYou, Rebecca Mander, to talk about what imposter phenomenon is and how people can overcome it…

JG: We’re going to talk about the topic of imposter phenomenon and how it can sometimes hold us back. So, can you explain what it is?

RM: Imposter phenomenon is defined as an intense feeling of phoniness, despite actually having intellectual success. So, it is a feeling of being a fake or a fraud and I have an example to share with you.

I was working at a very large airline and I was set to go in for a very challenging meeting with my female boss, who said to me, “when we go in, can you just try to be quiet and just sit there and look pretty, that’d be great.”

Comments like that really held me back when I went into a more male dominated industry and I felt like an imposter. I felt like a fake and as the only woman on a board of 40 I asked myself, ‘why am I here?’

JG: Is it something that everyone will experience at some point in their lives?

RM: I certainly think anyone can feel it and it’s possible we will all experience it at some point in our lives. I think it is found more where you have high achievers. People who suffer from imposter phenomenon quite often have PhDs, they’re at the top of their game and they really know what they’re talking about. They have so much evidence to say that they should be feeling confident and proud of their achievements, but some don’t.

It might come when we are in the minority, for example, ‘I’m the only person in my family who got to university, why am I here? Or ‘no one from my estate has been to university, so why am I here?’

JG: What is the difference then between imposter phenomenon and self-doubt? Are they not just the same thing?

RM: Self-doubt is more health related, so it is what makes us nervous when we go into a situation and makes us doubt we can do it. It is a natural and useful feeling when you are out of your comfort zone or trying something new because it keeps you on your toes and gets the juices running. But imposter phenomenon actually would stop you doing that in the first place.

I used to work with a lady who’d worked for the BBC and her career had been working her way up to the top, then leaving just before she thought she might be found out at a certain level. She went back into another organisation, again at the bottom level and worked her way back up. So, what we see is that in our workplaces, this crippling phenomenon is stopping many people from achieving what they really deserve. Businesses rely on people knowing about this so that we can conquer it and have the right people in the top positions. It’s such a waste otherwise.

JG: So, how can people overcome this phenomenon?

RM: I think a lot of it can be done through building confidence and self-awareness. But also, if you take the phrase you think about a lot, for example, ‘I’m not qualified enough’, and flip it to, ‘I am qualified for this and that’ and then look for the evidence to back that up, that can help overcome it.

It is really important you look for the evidence and then write it down and that really helps our cognition stick as well. So, write down the reasons why the ‘I am qualified enough’ phrase is true.

Also, find a mentor or a coach because they will give you unbiased advice and direction and they will have your best interests at heart. It can be a peer, someone who works with you and ask them to go for a coffee and get their opinion on you and ask for their advice and support.

And then my key advice would be stay in your own lane. Oscar Wilde once famously said, ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken’ and I love that phrase. We are who we are meant to be and we need to run our own race, because if you look behind, slow down or look at others, then it impacts on your performance.

About Rebecca

Rebecca Mander is a qualified, executive coach and a fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management. Motivated by her experience as a managing director, going through personal setback, she is now an author and a keynote speaker on the subject. She is a working mum with three lovely children and an amazing husband!


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