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Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?

And how to be real with yourself.

Image credit: Allef Vinicius

3 ways to stop feeling like an imposter

Remember when you were a kid and you were afriad there were monsters in your room? You hid under the covers, not moving a muscle, holding your breath, and tuned in to every sound, absolutely panicked they’d discover you.

Waiting to be exposed, to be found out, is exhausting. It paralyzes us, holds us back, and prevents us from reaching our highest potential.

It can even derail our career.

Recently I had the honor of speaking at DisruptHR in San Diego. A global phenomenon unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the information exchange is designed to energize, inform, and empower people in the field of human resources.

Ironically, as I prepared my talk about the imposter syndrome, I kept thinking I was completely unqualified.

After all, I’d never spoken in the “disrupt” format before and I’d never worked in HR.

Who on earth did I think I was fooling?

I suspect almost all of the other speakers that night felt the same way and everyone who’s ever started a new job knows exactly what I’m talking about.

We want others to think we’re the person in our professional mug shots — dashing, debonair, organized, qualified, fabulously unruffled.

Of course, what’s really going on inside looks a lot more like a deer in the headlights with a healthy dose of chaos.

What is going on?

We are high-achieving professionals.

We’re intelligent, educated, and experienced. We have expertise in spades.

And we all have a petulant little voice inside our head that whispers, “you’re not good enough.”

That voice is a bully and it’s been lying to you your entire life. It wants you to believe you are a fake. A phony. A poser.

An imposter.

The imposter syndrome is real. It afflicts high achieving individuals, causing them to doubt their accomplishments. It’s this nagging feeling that you’re going to be found out and exposed as a fraud. It whispers things like:

  • Who do you think you are?
  • You can’t possibly pull this off.
  • Eventually someone is going to discover that you have no idea what you’re talking about.
  • You’re going to fail and everyone is going to laugh at you.

Why does this matter?

The imposter syndrome kicks in every time we try to disrupt the status quo. It matters, because each time we give in to the lies, we lose our ability to be a leader.

Whenever we take a new position or try something new, we will always feel unqualified. Think about it. We’re not qualified to do something we’ve never actually done. But we are qualified to start.

So, how do we take charge of our inner imposter and unmask the true leader within us?

Here are three steps to get you started.

Step 1 — Question your assumptions.

Write down your accomplishments at the end of every day. When you review them every week, you’ll have a better understanding of how good you really are.

Step 2 — Redefine competence.

In the military, we had 5 basic responses — yes, no, no excuse, aye aye, and I’ll find out. Leadership doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It means you’re smart enough to ask the right questions.

Step 3 — Remember your childhood.

The things that made you laugh and gave you energy are clues to who you really are. Your ability to truly lead lies in your willingness to be genuine and authentic.

We used to be heretics.

When we were kids, we pushed the boundaries. We questioned everything. We asked “why” a lot. And we very rarely took no for an answer.

As leader, your goal should not be to impress, but to connect because when you do, you have the greatest opportunity to influence emerging leaders.

And you connect best when you are authentic.

So get back to being the heretic you used to be. Tell your imposter to take a hike. Stand in defiance of those people still saying things like “that will never work” or “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

Stepping out of line and going against the rules takes courage but isn’t that the very nature of a leader?

You can choose the safety of conformity and approval, or the breathtaking and exhilarating transformation that comes from true leadership.

You are a heretic and you are a leader — choose well.

Before you go…

If you’d like some practical steps to stop feeling like an imposter and start leading with executive presence, you’ll find 3 unusual ways to lead with confidence right here.

Originally published at on October 25, 2016.

Originally published at

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