It can strike at any time, it can strike anyone and it can strike at any time in the business life cycle: impostor syndrome is the spectre that haunts the minds of entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders alike.

Whether it’s a senior executive embarking on a programme of transformational change, a mid level manager taking over a major project or an entrepreneur stepping up to be a business leader… the self-sabotaging thought processes are the same.

It’s part of the human condition

Impostor syndrome comes from a place of lack: we tend to look at others and view with envy the skills that we perceive them to have, and that we believe that we don’t have.

It comes from a place of self doubt and fear of the new: we’ve not done this before – can we do it? Are we the right people to take this thing forward?

It also comes from a place of comparison and an unfair one at that: we are comparing out inner self with someone else’s external presentation of themselves, and that’s never going to be a level playing field.

And it comes from a place of perceived status: as human beings we are subconsciously CONSTANTLY gauging where we fit in the hierarchy… whatever our understanding of that is.

It’s an animal thing – we can’t help it: we might put ourselves ‘above’ the janitor but below the managing director. We’ve managed to get a business class air ticket on client expenses…and we feel slightly smug as we walk past the queue for economy. We’re at the networking event and we notice our peer’s designer handbag…and we make assumptions about her status within her company, or within society.

There’s no point pretending that we don’t….because we do. Are we better than them, or are they better than us?

So when the spectre approaches, what can we do to banish it and to retain a more realistic perspective of our abilities and chances of success?

1) Recognise the voice

Becoming conscious of the ‘voice’ of the impostor is a first step: the voice in your head that’s telling you that it won’t work that you’re not going to make it, that today’s the day they find you out.

2) Name the voice

Naming the voice is a useful way of distancing yourself from it – this way it’s no longer your voice, it’s someone else’s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the prevalent suggestion is that you use the name of someone whom you dislike. Psychologically, this makes you less inclined to listen to it

3) Dismiss the voice

Once you’ve become consciously aware of the voice and have named it, you can dismiss it.

The point here isn’t to overthink it and work out whether what the voice is saying is right or wrong. The point to consider is…is it useful? If the answer to THAT question is a resounding ‘no’, dismiss what the voice is telling you.

4) Past success

Only when you’ve dealt with the illogical, emotional internal voice of the impostor can you begin to apply logic to fill the void that it has left with something more useful.

Remind yourself of past success. Of times when you’ve faced and overcome challenges. Of times when you’ve been resourceful in the solving of problems and issues.

Write these down. Keep them somewhere where you will see them so you don’t forget.

5) Feedback

Ask for feedback from others. They are likely to offer a fresh perspective on your abilities and on the situation at hand – one that’s not tainted with the voice of the impostor, but which offers a more balanced view of the possibilities – of your possibilities.

Impostor syndrome can appear at any time: being vigilant and following these steps, though, can help to silence this inner critic and move forward in your chosen direction with clarity and confidence.


  • Annabelle Beckwith

    Leadership consultant, trainer and coach, author. Lateral thinker. Keen observer of the human condition.

    Annabelle's career spans over 20 years working as a leader in business herself and, for nearly 2 decades, as a trainer, coach, consultant and advisor to leaders at all organisational levels within major companies all over the world, as well as entrepreneurs and business owners. Taking an oblique, lateral and deeply psychological view of life and business, Annabelle shares patterns and principles that have played out...and continue to play out... in businesses large and small, wherever they are.