When leaders feel like impostors

Dennis Sparks

A surprising number of us feel like impostors. Even people who appear confident and in charge may be experiencing what some have termed “the imposter syndrome.”

Those who suffer from it may appear to know what they are doing. They may appear confident, or even superbly confident. But deep inside they fear the moment when their incompetence will be revealed.

Here’s an example in which Ben Affleck describes what it felt like to direct his first movie, “Gone Baby Gone”: “I was very, very scared. I just didn’t know if I could do it. . . . And every day I was scared, and I probably stayed that scared throughout … and not sure of myself at all.”

So, if you sometimes feel like you have risen above your level of competence, here are some things you might do:

1. Admit it to yourself and to trusted confidants. Because this is a very common feeling, they are likely to disclose the same feelings to you, and together you will experience the relief of knowing that you’re not alone.

2. Read what experts have to say about the syndrome and what can be done to address it.

3. In those small number of areas in which there may be reality-based knowledge or skill deficits, engage in the process of professional learning to remedy the deficits.

Question: What strategies have you used to counteract the impostor syndrome when you feel it arising within you?

2 Responses to “When leaders feel like impostors”


  1. 1 Jane Kise (@JaneKise) January 31, 2013 at 8:15 am

    This is very real for me and most of the colleagues I’ve had heart-to-hearts with about it. I remind myself that it’s usually the teachers who keep asking to have me return for more professional development work. In other words, I have a short list of tangible evidence that I’m having an impact.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks January 31, 2013 at 8:18 am

      You added an important strategy to address the imposter syndrome, Jane – seeking evidence to the contrary that demonstrates our effectiveness. Thanks for your comment!


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