Imposter Syndrome: What Is It, and How do You Overcome It?

September 30, 2021

Nigel Girling

Head of Professional Qualifications
Graphic of several ball bearings all in rows following a single blue ball bearing

It’s tempting to believe that those who are promoted into leadership roles are ambitious, confident and driven, effortlessly following some master plan devised while at school, college or university.

Studies and experience with thousands of leaders tells a very different story.

For many who find themselves in a leadership role it’s not something they either planned or expected. It can often be something they didn’t even want. A significant proportion of people in management & leadership positions actually came into their field, role or organisation for entirely different reasons, such as an interest in the work, a desire to do something they see as important or to be part of a team. Perhaps they just needed a job and this was the one they found.

Whether you call it pay, salary, wages, earnings or compensation – the fact remains that we’ve arranged things in the majority of organisations so that you can only earn up to a defined ceiling in any ‘job’ – and need to be promoted to the next level or into management in order to advance any further. With the cost of living, housing, food, transport and every other financial pressure faced by the majority, it follows that many people end up in management because they need or want the money and aren’t really that confident in their ability and right to occupy that space.

We call this ‘imposter syndrome’. That feeling many people know of expecting someone at any minute to tap them on the shoulder and say ‘hey, what are you doing in this office? You’re not a leader’.

In more than 40 years as a leader and a mentor to other leaders, I must have heard this from hundreds of colleagues and mentees – even at CEO and board level.

While many articles and news items in recent times have spoken about this with regard to women in leadership roles – in my experience this has very little to do with gender. It is rooted in legitimate self-confidence and that comes from accepting that you know what you’re doing, deserve to be there and have the right to sit in that chair.

So where does that legitimate self-confidence come from and how can you ‘grow it’?

One very sure way to stifle that doubting voice in your ear is to ‘earn your stripes’ by becoming professionally qualified.

I’ve seen thousands of leaders grow a little taller, speak with more authority and become more supportive and engaging after undertaking their professional qualification.

In a qualification like the ones awarded by CMI, a leader can benchmark themselves against professional standards and the expectations they must meet to be an effective ‘professional’ at first-line, middle or senior management level. Along the way, they will acquire or enhance a wide range of capabilities that will make them a better leader for their teams and their organisation – and bring more of that legitimate self-confidence that is typical of the very best.

The programmes we provide at Inspirational Development Group are based on the idea of ‘stretch & challenge’ – not just on achieving the qualification. They are designed to enhance, sharpen and even transform the capabilities and impact of the leader. The design of the programmes allows each leader to shape and apply the learning to fit their own context, to be truly practical and to be immediately applicable to their daily practice. While there is always going to be some underpinning theory, the focus is primarily on the leader’s own context, workplace and the real-world experience of a modern practising leader.

It’s important to know that you deserve to be the leader. Not just for you, but for those you lead.


Find out more about IDG’s Professional Qualifications in Leadership

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IDG India
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+91 955 271 5800

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+44 (0) 1276 686644