Leadership Development Essentials: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

January 25, 2024 Rachel Halversen

One of today’s top leadership challenges is imposter syndrome. Studies show that this professional plight can affect individuals at all levels of the org—regardless of age or experience—at any time without substantial rhyme or reason. Overcoming insecurities is essential to your leadership development journey no matter your tenure. Explore these strategies to look confident on the outside, even if you feel anything but that on the inside.

When it comes to leadership traits, confidence is key.

According to professor of business psychology Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “Competence is how good you are at something. Confidence is how good you think you are at something. Competence is an ability; confidence is the belief in that ability.” Often, a professionals’ accomplishments and merits speak for themselves, but one can be confident in their abilities while lacking confidence in themselves. Body language, speech, and appearance are three areas to target in order to exude an aura of confidence.

Body Language

Generally, three body language behaviors go into manifesting confidence: eye contact, smiling, and a steady, open stance.

Try these body language tricks to instantly appear more confident:

  1. Keep your chin and head up.
  2. Stand up straight.
  3. Plant your feet in an open, wide stance.
  4. Gesture with your palms up.
  5. Keep your hands out of your pockets and always visible.
  6. Maintain strong eye contact.

According to body language expert Lillian Glass, the best piece of advice for people who want to appear more confident is to “be interested, not interesting.” Dedicating your attention to the people you’re speaking with can help take your mind off your own insecurities about how others perceive you.

Speech

A confident tone and manner of speech are two key characteristics of leadership. The most successful leaders think before they speak and show intention with word choice. When it comes to filler words or sounds such as “um,” “uh,” “like,” or “you know,” they’ve either managed to limit their use or cut them entirely—an impressive feat considering this bad habit affects many if not most individuals. On the other hand, a deliberate pause is okay! To others, it can demonstrate that you’re thinking about your response and not hastily speaking off the cuff.

Rightly or wrongly, studies show that regardless of gender, those with relatively low frequency voices are seen as—and even perceive themselves as—more confident. So, consider playing with your pitch when trying to curate confidence as a part of your leadership development. How low can you go?

Appearance

First impressions are important, but they won’t necessarily make or break you. Remember, when you feel good, you look good, so dress to impress within reason. Within the expected dress code, wear what you love and what you feel comfortable and confident in. Interested in learning more about color psychology and clothing? Give this resource a read.

Comparisons and confidence don’t mix.

A critical part of overcoming imposter syndrome is working on not comparing yourself—your leadership style, your accomplishments, your title, your experience—to others as much as possible. Admittedly, that’s hard and only getting harder in the age of social media, but think about it: the more we fixate on our perceived shortcomings in comparison to others, the less mental space we have to focus on our own goals and good qualities.

Leadership challenges and how to overcome them

One of the biggest roadblocks to becoming a strong leader is fear. Learning your own work style, learning style, leadership style, and leadership orientation establishes a strong backbone of beliefs and behaviors to combat your insecurities.

Learn your leadership orientation

Forbes explored two different leadership orientations with the help of Betsy Leatherman of Leadership Circle.

“The first orientation we call Problem-Reacting. For example, a problem happens, and that creates some sort of fear for the leader. So, they respond. When they respond to the problem it gets a little bit smaller because they have given some sort of response to it. Their fear goes down a little bit. And then they don’t feel they have to respond any longer. However, because they are not responding to it or focusing on it anymore, all of a sudden, the problem starts to get bigger, again. And that creates fear, again, so they respond, again. That reactive pattern, we call it an oscillating loop, because it can continue over time. Problem-Reacting-Problem-Reacting.” Leatherman said.

The author explains that the Problem-Reacting loop lacks scalability and is often something that plagues leaders who want to fix things, to problem-solve. Conversely, the second orientation, Outcome-Creating, flips the script and reframes the focus on purpose rather than dwelling on problems.

“When a leader views problems as signs of systems that are broken, and as obstacles in the way of creating purpose (such as the purpose of the team or organization), then instead of hooking into fear, they begin hooking into passion. They can start to connect themselves and their team to a greater purpose in the world. When leaders connect themselves and their teams to this purpose, they unleash people’s passion.” Leatherman said.

To make that shift, here are three things to try:

  1. Regularly checking in with yourself, physically and mentally
  2. Stop trying to do it all yourself (delegate!)
  3. Solicit feedback

By incorporating these behaviors into your leadership style, you can foster vision, purpose, and passion for both yourself and your team.

Practice makes perfect

Habits are just as hard to make as they are to break. Think of your mindset like a habit; it’s your default, it’s automatic, honed, second nature. As time goes on, that mindset—much like any habit—can be hard to shift, even imperceptibly. So, start small. Since habits are constantly forming, fluctuating, and should remain top of mind, start by improving your work habits and zoom out from there. Try reframing the way you think about a task you dislike or something work-related that bothers you. Then, move on to bigger pictures like how you manage people, ways to innovate, the broader company culture, or growth strategies.

Leadership challenges call for savvy solutions.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is one of the most significant and common challenges that today’s leaders face, but with a little time and practice, it’s not only achievable, but an essential goal worth prioritizing no matter your tenure. Often, an underlying cause of imposter syndrome is the feeling that you simply aren’t enough to tackle everything that’s on your plate. And that’s okay—it’s important to remember that none of us can do it alone.

If you’re struggling with a pile of projects or simply lack the expertise to tackle top priorities, Business Talent Group and our network of highly skilled independent experts can help. Reach out today!

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