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Imposter syndrome is fueled by self-doubt and the belief that the position we hold is one in which we are unqualified or undeserving. If you’re the kind of leader or individual contributor who brings new ideas to market, you’re by definition doing something you haven’t done before. As women, we are conditioned to believe that we must have experience and expertise in something to take the job or lead the project. That conditioning is fueled by the belief that women should be perfect.
Self-doubt is a common experience many women face in the workplace, especially in leadership positions. Like many, I used to think that female C-suite executives and executives were filled with confidence and self-confidence and were in no way afflicted with the impostor syndrome and the self-doubt that fuels it. After years of working with, studying and being one of the few women in the top echelons of business, I discovered that the opposite is true.
Related: 5 Easy Ways to Turn Self-Doubt Into Success
It’s not that female executives don’t suffer from imposter syndrome. We do. In fact, in a 2022 study conducted by KPMG, 75% of executive female research participants report experiencing feelings of imposter syndrome throughout their careers; 81% believe they put more pressure on themselves not to fail than their male counterparts. What makes us different is how we’ve learned to fight the imposter syndrome by turning our self-doubt into strategies waiting to happen. Of the several strategies I’ve observed, six are commonly used by women to manage and reduce self-doubt in the C-suite:
1. Acknowledge and accept your self-doubt
It’s important to recognize that self-doubt is a normal feeling and everyone experiences it at some point. Acknowledge your doubts and accept that they are a natural part of the process of facing new challenges. Leaders face strangers every day. Self-confidence comes from the repetition of doing the same thing over and over again. Getting frustrated with yourself because of your lack of self-confidence works against you. Instead, make a list of the concerns you have. For each problem, make a list of things you want to know—don’t need—then create an action plan to find the answers. This approach not only gets you out of your mind, but also creates momentum toward your goals.
2. Replace “fake-it-til-you-make it imposter mindset”
Ignore well-intentioned fake-it-til-you-make-it advice. It perpetuates the belief that you are not enough. Leaders who embrace a growth mindset based on the belief that your skills can be developed through hard work and dedication. Adjust your values to prioritize and prioritize curiosity over ego. Develop a learning mindset by seeking specific feedback from trusted sources, learn from what works and what’s missing in the market, and continually try to improve your delivery and idea rather than trying to “fix” yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you.
3. Build a support network
Surround yourself with supportive colleagues, mentors, and friends who can encourage, guide, and provide honest and productive feedback. Look for individuals who have experience and success in leadership roles who can offer advice and support as you navigate your own path. Don’t look for cheerleaders who are incapable of giving you productive input on how to advance your idea or your career. You want positive support with pragmatic and strategic coaching in a way that allows you to test ideas and approaches in a safe place before trying them out in prime time.
Related: 10 Inspirational Women Entrepreneurs About Overcoming Self-Doubt and Launching Your Dream
4. Focus on your strengths
Recognize and embrace your unique skills, talents and achievements. One of the best ways to hold up a mirror to what you’re good at is to ask friends, family, colleagues or mentors for their honest opinion on what they think your strengths are. Often others see qualities in us that we may not recognize in ourselves. As you process this feedback, think about your achievements and what it took to find success by finding themes with input from others. Finally, if you haven’t already, you can take an online assessment such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or StrengthsFinder to help identify your cognitive and behavioral strengths and learn how to best use them taking into account the styles and preferences of other people.
5. Stand on your own side
Someone once told me that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat wait staff. The people who serve us are not in their role to be treated rudely. The same goes for how you treat yourself. You’ve been through a lot and you’re going through a lot – every day. You are tough and can handle it. There’s no doubt about it. Make a choice to fire that self-inflicted micro-manager in your head. That same compassion you use for the wait staff is the same compassion you deserve to use on yourself. Prioritize rest, exercise, healthy eating, and other activities that make you feel energized and balanced. If you’re tired, stop what you’re doing and take a nap or go for a walk. The work will be there when you come back. The world will not end if you stop working early in the evening. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a good friend. Be gentle with yourself, especially when you make mistakes.
6. Challenge your negative self-talk
This is a tough nut to crack. Isn’t it crazy how we believe our worst inner critic? We ourselves talk into the trash as a way to prepare ourselves for others who we think may think the same and/or tell us the same thing. Identify the negative self-talk that contributes to your self-doubt and challenge those thoughts. Change your inner dialogue to separate yourself from your feelings. For example, try replacing “I can’t do this and everyone will find out” with “I have nervousness in me. Why is that nervousness there?” When you put it that way, you are able to create a healthy separation between your deceptive self-talk and yourself. It is also important to intentionally bring positivity and passion into your life. Hang out with people you like and who like you. Have fun, laugh and try new things. Put yourself in positions you enjoy being in your life. Cultivate positive energy for yourself and those around you.
Overcoming imposter syndrome and self-doubt on any level takes practice. Practice a lot. Actively and intentionally build these steps into your daily life. Over time, the inner voice of your ego-focused imposter syndrome will be replaced by a story of curiosity about what might be out there on the unknown path you are paving.