How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome
as a Manager

See also: Managing Your Internal Dialogue

The current fast-paced business environment has created a culture of competition in which managers are often required to showcase their skills and knowledge in problem-solving. Being promoted to management level requires individuals to take on the responsibility of managing, supervising, coaching and mentoring their team. For a lot of people, this is a huge jump that can create a series of doubts about their abilities and capacity to lead. They feel that perhaps they aren’t deserving of the promotion, or maybe they will make a mistake and everyone will find out they aren’t actually that smart.

Self-doubt is a recurring theme in most organizations. A study reveals that 50% of females and 31% of male managers experience self-doubt on a regular basis. These self-doubts are what psychologists call imposter syndrome and some studies have found that up to 70% of people experience it at some time.

And it’s not just managers who suffer these doubt: C.E.O’s and top management executives can also suffer from imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a mental self-torment in which an individual questions their accomplishments and attributes them to luck. Sufferers live in fear of being discovered as a fraud or as not sufficiently competent.

Imposter syndrome creates doubts that make an individual question their abilities and talk down their potential and achievements. It doesn’t just cost the individual, it also cost the organization in terms of productivity.

Self-doubts as a result of imposter syndrome have a negative effect on work performance and studies associate the following negative outcomes with imposter syndrome:

  • Lack of motivation.
  • Difficulty in making decisions.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Low self-confidence.
  • Emotional instability.
  • Anxiety.
  • Procrastination.

Why do Managers Develop Imposter Syndrome?

1. Unhealthy Comparison

Comparison is the thief of joy. -Theodore Roosevelt

A lot of managers engage in unhealthy comparison; they may believe they are less qualified than their colleagues. This constant rumination is what decreases work completion and the achievement of organizational goals. Research also suggests that comparison breeds self-criticism, and self-criticism is what leads to fear, procrastination, and low productivity at work.

2. Perfectionism Syndrome

Research shows that although perfectionism has its upsides, it also has a lot of downsides.

It is why many people develop anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, chronic headaches, and depression. It is the main reason why a lot of people find it difficult to actualize their work goals and why so many people experience burn out at work. People with perfectionism syndrome find it difficult to make decisions because they are fearful of making mistakes and being perceived as incompetent.

3. The Need for External Validation

The need to be appreciated and approved by top management is a problem most managers face, and it has been shown to have a negative effect on work performance. Seeking approval is what leads to perfectionism syndrome. Seeking external validations increasing anxiety, and makes a manager more susceptible to acting normally, even when they have no clue how to go about their daily tasks. This attitude can be dangerous for productivity.

4. Unhealthy Work Environment

An environment that doesn’t support growth but focuses more on performance and achievement can breed a lot of anxiety and impair productivity at work. Unhealthy work environments easily fuel imposter syndrome and the need to overcompensate. It also leads to low performance and morale.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

The first step towards overcoming imposter syndrome is acceptance and awareness because you cannot solve what you don’t understand. Become aware of how you feel about yourself, your work environment, attitudes, and how you perceive achievements. Through this process, you get to understand yourself more and recognize if you feel like an imposter.

The following are other ways in which you can deal with imposter syndrome as a manager:

1. Get Hold of Your Thoughts

The mind has a way of exaggerating little things. For instance, maybe you failed at something in the past or you experienced a failure. This past experience can haunt you even in the present moment, making you become too conscious of yourself and how people perceive you. It's not only bad for your mental wellbeing, but it can also inhibit growth and productivity at work.

Become aware of your negative thoughts, and you should question them to understand their validity and rationality. In most cases, you’ll discover that your thoughts are irrational and have nothing to do with your qualifications and capability.

2. Own Your Achievements

One of the symptoms of imposter syndrome is disowning one’s own accomplishments and achievements. And the best way to handle the feeling of imposter syndrome is to own your achievements, acknowledge the fact that your achievements and accomplishments were as a result of hard work and not just luck. You should celebrate all your career wins, both large and small.

3. Discard the Thought of Perfection

The best way to deal with imposter syndrome as a manager is to develop a growth mentality rather than perfectionism. A growth mindset ensures that you accept your vulnerabilities and seek improvement rather than pretending to be perfect.
Most managers who struggle with imposter syndrome due to perfectionism fail to understand that today’s perfection is tomorrow's flaws. The world is constantly changing and every day comes with new challenges. The only way to progress and deal with challenges revolves around having a growth mindset.

4. Redefine Failure as a Learning Opportunity

Instead of being fearful of making mistakes and taking on challenges at the office because you don’t want to make a mistake or fail, you should reframe failure and mistakes as a learning opportunity. Acknowledge the fact that no success endures without failure: it is the mistakes and failures that create new opportunities that make you wiser and smarter. Failure has only one explanation: it shows you’re daring and stepping out of your comfort zone.

5. Set Realistic Goals

Having unrealistic goals for yourself and your work can put a lot of pressure on you and also make you feel bad when you fail to accomplish them. Having an unrealistic goal sets you up for failure and can destroy your self-esteem. On the other hand, when you set realistic goals for yourself, you set yourself up for success, and it builds your self-esteem and confidence.

Ensure you praise yourself for each milestone you accomplish in your goals and career.

6. Avoid Self-Criticism

Being your own critic doesn’t just affect your work performance, it also destroys your self-esteem. Examples of self-criticisms include “I’m a failure”, “I’m not that smart”, “I’m not good enough” or “How could I be so stupid to make such kind of mistake?”. These negative self-thoughts create a mental block and prevent you from seeing anything good in yourself. A study shows that self-criticism can lead to mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.

Always catch yourself when you’re criticizing yourself, understand that failures and mistakes are a necessary part of life and have no correlation with how smart or intelligent you are.

Cut yourself some slack. You’re already doing your best so don’t jeopardize your effort with negative self-talk.

7. Seek out Help

One of the best ways to deal with imposter syndrome is for managers to seek professional help. A coach or mentor can be a great place to start.

A coach is someone who can work with you to help you break all limiting beliefs you might hold of yourself, and help you see beyond your self-imposed limitations.

A mentor is someone who has walked on the same path and understand what it feels like to be in the same position. They can provide you with helpful advice and tips on how to deal with imposter syndrome.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Business Strategy and Analysis

The Skills You Need Guide to Business Strategy and Analysis

Based on our popular management and analysis content the Skills You Need Guide to Business Strategy and Analysis is a straightforward and practical guide to business analysis.

This eBook is designed to give you the skills to help you understand your business, your market and your competitors.

It will help you understand why business analysis is important for strategy—and then enable you to use analytical tools effectively to position your business.


Although imposter syndrome is not a life-threatening mental condition, it can be debilitating and inhibit growth and productivity. The role of a manager is quite delicate in every organization and requires individuals who are confident in themselves and their abilities.

It is therefore advisable to seek out help if you feel that imposter syndrome is impeding your productivity.

About the Author

Onuoha Thomas is a personal development coach and consultant. He is passionate about helping people break their limiting beliefs, find purpose and live productively. He has worked with clients across Asia, Europe, Africa and America.