In 2022, about 60 million people, or close to 1/3 of the American workforce, changed jobs. Statistics like this haven’t been seen since the 1970s. This movement has brought tremendous change in many sectors, as well as in leadership at many levels. With change can come great degrees of uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety.
It should not be a surprise, then, that many leaders transitioning into new roles are dealing with Imposter Syndrome.
For example, one client of mine, a practicing physician for over 10 years at a major academic medical center, had previously taken on many leadership roles in her tenure. Most notably, she had mentored numerous medical students, directed various hospital projects, and held several academic society positions. But when she was asked to take on the role of chief of her division, where her peers would be reporting to her, strong feelings of self-doubt started to take over her internal dialogue. She questioned why she had been chosen for the role over others, especially since the division included older, seemingly more experienced physicians. She wondered how her superiors found her to even be qualified for the role. Most of all, she doubted her ability to succeed in leading the division to its next phase of growth and development.
Imposter Syndrome, or Imposter Phenomenon, as first defined by Drs. Clance and Imes in 1978, is a condition where an individual believes that they are a fake, a phony, or an “imposter,” and they are in constant fear of being “discovered” as such. Often these feelings are not based in reality and do not match others’ perceptions of the person’s accomplishments and achievements. That negative self-talk of not being good enough or worthy of accolades can lead to barriers in advancement for many professionals and, worse, can create cycles of self-sabotage.
When you’re beginning a new job, taking on more advanced leadership responsibilities, or transitioning with a new boss, your brain signals that a major change is occurring, and natural defenses arise. Most professionals do not naturally adjust to change quickly. Change can be scary. Many fears are associated with the unknown and the unfamiliar. We want to go back to what we know, what’s familiar, and what’s comfortable.
That’s when what I call the “Imposter Monster” can take over. The Imposter Monster is an imaginary character that sits on your shoulder and gives negative commentary. In an effort to protect you from potential unknown dangers, it can actually hold you back from taking positive risks and diving into change.
Any change in the work setting signals the Imposter Monster to go into overdrive and prevent action. Its goal is to take you back to the pre-transition state.
When I work with clients where Imposter Syndrome strikes strong during a job transition, I encourage them to employ the “iCAN” method to better embrace the new change and perform at their best:
“i” – Individual who CAN do great things and excel in the new role.
“C” – Change the narrative. Start by writing down all the internal dialogue in your head. What is the negative character saying to you? Remember, that voice is a part of you, but it’s not all of you. There are other voices there to combat it as well. Use those other voices to combat the negative story you are hearing. Create a different one that includes how you got to your new role, how you are qualified to be in it, and what you plan to accomplish in it.
“A” – Affirm your achievements. The Imposter Monster may be trying to tell you that luck alone is responsible for getting you a better job. To counteract this, record all the past achievements you’ve had in your career. Ask colleagues, mentors, friends, and family to tell you about the achievements they have seen and recognized. This reflection and feedback will help validate how you got to where you are now as a function of skill and expertise, not luck.
“N” – Notate your why, what, and how. Think through why the change in job and new role is important to you. What’s motivating you to excel in it? How can you channel your strengths towards success in the new position?
If you or someone you know is struggling with Imposter Syndrome, especially during a time of transition, reach out to a coach. Connecting with a professional to work through the cycle of a negative mindset can be transformational and provide positive, long-lasting results.
To learn more, connect with me at iRISE Executive Coaching: firstname.lastname@example.org.