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Imposter Syndrome

“To stop feeling like an imposter, stop thinking like an imposter” Jacqueline Heron

The RPC Female Insurance Group (FIG) Boardroom Ready series of webinars continued on 9 December with a close look at imposter syndrome, a subject of great interest to us at the Centre for Legal Leadership.

Hosted by Alexandra Anderson, Partner at RPC and chair of FIG, the hour-long session was presented by executive career coach, Jacqueline Heron.

Imposter syndrome – do you have it… too?

This was the revealing question Jacqueline opened her presentation with. It suggests that imposter syndrome is more prevalent than many of us realise and that while few people have it all the time, a lot of people experience it some of the time.

Imposter syndrome is the feeling that all your achievements are down to luck – that maybe you’ve simply been fortunate enough to have been at the right place at the right time – and that anytime soon you’ll be exposed as a fraud. It’s debilitating, it’s isolating for people in senior executive positions, it affects more women than men.

And it comes in many guises. If you’re gripped by the anxiety that accompanies imposter syndrome, the chances are you’ll identify as one or more of these five types:

  • Soloist: you feel you must prove that you can complete a task / project alone – to ask for help would reveal your incompetence;
  • Perfectionist: you burn the midnight oil to cross every T and dot every I – anything less suggests you’re not up to the job;
  • Superwoman: you need to prove that you can take it all on and get everything done – you’d hate to reveal yourself as an imposter by coming up short;
  • Genius: it matters that you find things easy – if it’s not effortless, I’m not good enough. Then again if it is effortless for me, it must be of little value to others; or
  • Expert: you need to know everything about a project or task – if you don’t have a ready answer, you’re falling down on the job.

All these mindsets are destructive. They stop you focusing on the bigger picture and can cause the outcomes you’re most concerned about.

Disempower imposter syndrome

If you recognise yourself in any of the above types, you’ll be pleased to hear that imposter syndrome arises from learned behaviours. In other words, you’re not born with it so you can unlearn the behaviours that are making you uncomfortable.

Chief among the strategies for achieving this is to talk about how you feel about yourself with a trusted colleague or a small, discreet group. You’ll probably find that others have similar feelings and they’ll almost certainly see you very differently to the way you see yourself. So, simply by getting your feelings out in the open and discussing how you feel, you’ll be greatly reducing the power of imposter syndrome to disrupt your life.

Another strategy is to reframe your experience and embrace new behaviours. This could transform your self-confidence. For example:

  • Rewrite your internal script – by changing the way you ‘talk’ to yourself, you’ll gradually change your body language. In turn, you’ll change the way people respond to you;
  • Check your language – do you say things like ‘All I did was…’, ‘I only did…’or ‘My input was just to…’? Phrases like these devalue your contribution. Other people will pick up on this - and the sentiment beneath it – and similarly downgrade your work. Lead them in the opposite direction with language that talks up the value of what you do;
  • Adopt a power pose in meetings – especially important in the Zoom meeting era is to develop a body language and posture that boosts your confidence. Unfortunately, sitting in front of a laptop for back-to-back conference calls is not on the list of recommended poses. Standing and walking around are good because they change the chemical balance in the body and help release confidence-releasing hormones;
  • Smile – because it calms us and makes us more confident; and
  • Breathe better – breathing exercises can help reduce anxiety and calm the central nervous system. They’re simple and quick to master and you need only do them once or twice a day for a couple of minutes.

Other great ways to confront imposter syndrome include updating your CV every six months to remind yourself of your achievements and treating mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn and grow.

Finally, pat yourself on the back every now and then, because:

‘If I can’t be my biggest fan, how can I expect anyone else to cheer me on?’

About Jacqueline Heron

Jacqueline Heron is an executive career coach and leadership consultant with significant business experience. After running her own financial services firm, Jacqueline had over 25 years’ corporate experience in senior leadership roles in global risk and human capital consulting firms, Mercer and Aon.

About FIG

RPC's Female Insurance Group has worked hard since its inception five years ago to promote gender equality in the workplace. The network, which now has over 1,000 members, aimed to put women from across the insurance industry in touch with one another for support and professional development. Recognising the need to equip our members with the necessary confidence and skills to develop and excel into their workplaces, we focus on providing opportunities for members to learn, develop and hone their skills on a wide range of topics, including stress in the workplace, keeping career fit and mentoring skills.

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