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Five Ways CEOs Can Conquer Imposter Syndrome

CEOs can Conquer Imposter Syndrome: It’s not often talked about, but it’s a malady that can creep up on any leader: the feeling that you are faking it—and you will be found out. Five strategies to slay the beast.

Written by: Sabrina Horn

After years of working incredibly hard, building a terrific career, and finally finding yourself in the top seat, you are ambushed. It may creep up on you. Or it may hit you all at once. You develop the very debilitating feeling that you don’t deserve your success. You think that you are not actually equipped to lead. You believe you are faking it—and you will be found out.

This grim self-assessment is not based in fact, but the feeling is all too real. It’s called imposter syndrome, and it affects as many as a third of high achievers—men and women, regardless of age, race or ethnicity. The symptoms are powerful but unwarranted feelings of fraud accompanied by anxiety and terror of exposure. The most vulnerable are those who already struggle with issues of perfectionism or who faced intense academic pressure during childhood. Victims are, in fact, the strivers and high achievers—hardly frauds—yet they attribute their success to anything other than their own talent and hard work. It was all a matter of luck, good timing, or the contributions of others, they insist to themselves. And the more others hold them in high esteem, the worse it gets.

The most pernicious feature of imposter syndrome is how it chips away at your confidence and thus degrades your performance as a leader. Unchecked, it can limit your ability to navigate problems, prompt you to procrastinate, and create the kind of self-doubt that produces bad decisions. Something as essential as effectively communicating with customers or investors can seem a difficult task.

A Case in Point—Me

Imposter syndrome hit me late in my career. But I’m living proof that it can be overcome.

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