Episode 7: Imposter Syndrome: You’re not alone (and what you can do about it)

This episode tackles the complex and sometimes crippling issue of imposter syndrome. I answer three fundamental questions: 

  • What is imposter syndrome? 
  • Why do we experience it? 
  • And most importantly, how can we overcome it? 

I provide practical strategies for leaders to combat imposter syndrome and thrive in their roles, offering a roadmap to greater self-awareness and confidence in the workplace. 

I also offer insight into my own personal struggles with imposter syndrome and how I silence my inner critic. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Imposter syndrome is widespread but manageable.
  • Self-awareness and reframing negative thoughts are crucial.
  • We need to celebrate our successes, seek support and embrace learning.

Don’t miss this empowering discussion on conquering imposter syndrome and unlocking your full potential as a leader.


00:09 Introduction to the Podcast

00:43 Understanding Imposter Syndrome

02:00 My personal experience with Imposter Syndrome

03:00 Imposter Syndrome in the professional world

04:11 The impact of Imposter Syndrome

04:37 Why we feel Imposter Syndrome

07:04 How to overcome Imposter Syndrome

11:06 Conclusion and Final Thoughts

The Balanced Leader Podcast. Episode 7: Imposter Syndrome




[00:00:00] This is the balance leader podcast, the podcast that helps leaders elevate their wellbeing and create healthier workplaces. My name is Rob Hills and I am your leadership and wellbeing coach. Have you ever felt that you didn’t belong in a room because you weren’t qualified enough? Or have you ever felt like you didn’t have the right level of experience to apply for a job?

Or, do you know what it feels like to feel out of your depth at work, and at any moment someone’s going to find out that you’re actually a fraud? If that’s you, and I know that’s certainly been me at times, then you’re going to want to tune into this episode. In today’s episode, I’m going to answer three questions.

Firstly, what is imposter syndrome? Secondly, why do we feel it? And lastly, and probably most importantly, is what we can do about it. The information provided in this podcast [00:01:00] is scientifically backed and proven to work. Not only has it worked in my life, but I reckon it can work in your life too. So what is imposter syndrome?

Let me paraphrase the National Library of Medicine’s definition of imposter syndrome. It is self doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high achieving individuals. These people experience pervasive feelings of self doubt and anxiety. And they worry about being exposed, despite verifiable and objective evidence of their successfulness.

That last bit is the real kicker for me. Even though there is evidence right in front of us, we still don’t believe in ourselves, and how quickly we seem to forget all of the other great things that we’ve done in our lives and all of our accomplishments. We also tend to discount some of our experience or knowledge because we feel like everyone already knows it, or has already done it before.

But we’ll talk more about that later in this episode. You [00:02:00] know what? I know personally what Impostor Syndrome feels like, because I’ve experienced it firsthand. It has made me nervous, it’s given me anxiety, and it’s stopped me from trying new things and held me back in more ways than I care to think about.

Let me give you a really recent example of this. Starting this podcast was a huge source of Impostor Syndrome for me. It took me five years to record my first episode. That’s five years. I felt like I didn’t have enough experience. I felt like there were people out there who were more qualified than me.

And who was I to have a podcast anyway? Not to mention there was a fear of judgment that might come from other people about why is this guy starting a podcast? The day that I released the first episode, I honestly felt like someone was going to contact me and say, take it down. That’s pretty irrational, right?

And if you think that it’s just you and I that suffer from imposter syndrome, it’s definitely not. [00:03:00] According to a study published by the International Journal of Behavioural Science, 70 percent of the world’s top executives have also struggled with imposter syndrome. Harvard Business Review says that executives worldwide agree that their biggest fear is to be found to be incompetent.

Now, have a quick think about that in your organization and in your context. Potentially 70 percent of your colleagues or senior executives are also feeling this way too, right? Yet we all seem to think that it’s just us. In fact, I’ve got a list here of people that you may know that have actually suffered from or are still suffering from imposter syndrome.

Some of the names on this list may surprise you, because they sure as heck surprise me. Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Sheryl Sandberg, who’s the former chief operating officer of Facebook, Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, Serena Williams, Arianna Huffington, [00:04:00] and someone a little bit closer to home for you fellow Aussies listening in, billionaire Mike Cannon Brooks, who is the co-CEO of Atlassian.

These are all impressive people, right? 

Imposter syndrome can be crippling, both mentally and emotionally. It can drain you of energy. It can make you so nervous, which in turn makes your performance suffer, which means next time you do it, you’re going to likely experience those nerves even more, which really sucks.

All this does is it feeds the cycle of self doubt. And as a taxi driver once said to me, it’s a self licking ice cream. Let’s move on to the second question we want to answer. Why do we feel imposter syndrome? First, let me state, sometimes we don’t actually have the skills, the knowledge, or the qualifications, so the feelings of inadequacy can actually be valid.

And I’m thinking of myself here. If I rocked up to NASA tomorrow to talk about the next unmanned mission to Mars, It’s not [00:05:00] necessarily an area of expertise for me. But even still, that doesn’t mean you don’t belong, or that you aren’t good enough. It shows that there’s still work to do, or there’s still room to grow.

The feeling of imposter syndrome itself can come from a combination of reasons, such as perfectionism, or trying not to make any mistakes. I know what that feels like. The need to feel acceptance in a group or a sense of belonging. Comparing yourself with others. Now, side note here, why is it that we always compare ourselves to people who are further along in the journey?

Wouldn’t it be nice to compare ourselves with someone who wasn’t as far along in the journey as we are? Anyway, I’m off track. Expectations. Like, when we hold a position of power, so we feel like we have to have all the answers. And lastly, it’s our baggage, which we seem to drag with us wherever we go. And I’m talking about our history, past experiences, previous criticisms, or even in some cases, like our childhood [00:06:00] memories.

There’s lots of different reasons there, and lots of different potential combinations. My flavor of imposter syndrome is probably going to be different to your flavor of imposter syndrome. I do want you to remember something here, and this is really important. You only feel imposter syndrome in situations that you care about.

If you didn’t care about it, you wouldn’t worry about it. Let me say that again, because this was something that was really important for me to realize. You only feel imposter syndrome in situations that you care about. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t worry about it. Think about it this way. If someone said to you that Billy is a better basket weaver than you’ll ever be, would you really care?

I mean, probably not. You don’t have any skin in the game. You’re not trying to be the best basket weaver in the world. So who cares? So, then what does that tell you about the situation when you are experiencing imposter syndrome? You care. [00:07:00] Okay, you’re probably thinking, Rob, just cut to the chase. How do we banish imposter syndrome from our lives forever?

Step number one is self awareness. We just covered this in episode five, which was called self awareness is your superpower. So if you haven’t already, go back and check out that episode as well, but understanding what is happening and why it is happening is key. If you can understand what combination your imposter syndrome is and what you’re experiencing, you can figure out why and start taking steps to mitigate it.

Step 2. You need to challenge your negative self talk. The theory behind this one comes from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT. When you hear yourself saying, I don’t belong in the room, ask yourself, why not? In this case, the voice inside your head, it’s not your friend, and it’s likely playing the same old tune it’s always played, stuck on repeat.

We need [00:08:00] to catch ourselves when we start hearing that negative self talk, then reframe it into something more positive and more empowering. Step 3 is to do an honest audit of your past experiences. It doesn’t have to be the exact same field, but look for instances where you’ve had success in similar situations.

Where, for example, you might have given a great speech, where you completed a project really successfully. Focus on those. Amplify those ones in your mind. Make a list and put it somewhere where you can see it every day, just to remind yourself. You worked really hard on those achievements, so make sure you celebrate your success.

Step four is to surround yourself with people who believe in you. When you’re told by someone that you respect, that you’re good at something, you are more likely to believe them than you are yourself. And when you believe that you can do something, you work harder at it, which means you’re more likely to succeed.

This, in turn, creates evidence that you can use to show yourself you can [00:09:00] actually do it. This is the better self licking ice cream. I am so lucky to be surrounded by people in my life who believe in me, and it helps remind me when I can’t see it myself that I can do it. When I told people that I was going to start a podcast, no one said, You’re an idiot.

Why would you do that? They told me why they thought I’d be great at podcasting and what skills I’d already demonstrated that would help in my success. And that gave me the courage to try. I do have a bonus tip here because I think this is really important for people who are just beginning or are trying something new.

Because this is when imposter syndrome rears its ugly head. You need to remind yourself that you’re just a beginner and that you’re learning. When you do that, you will find immediately that the pressure to be perfect and to not make any mistakes goes away. This is something that I’m doing for this podcast.

Whenever I think to myself, I probably could have done that a little bit better, [00:10:00] or I stumble to find the right words or the right cadence, I remind myself, I’m a beginner, I’m learning, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. No one’s first anything is brilliant. First podcast, first presentation, first difficult conversation.

But that doesn’t make us imposters. It makes us beginners. I want you to picture in your mind a baby taking their first steps. The baby doesn’t take their first step, fall down, and say, well, this isn’t for me. They don’t hang their heads in shame and think to themselves, well, clearly I’m an imposter, why do I even try?

They fall over, they get back up, and they try again, and again, and again, until they do it without even thinking about it. And in case you’ve forgotten, you were once that baby too. Remember. Every room you walk into, you have something to contribute. A unique perspective that only you have, based on the sum of all your life experiences.

[00:11:00] Have you ever heard the quote, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room? That’s really good advice. Everyone experiences self doubt at some point in their life. The key is to not let it define you. By using the steps I’ve outlined in this episode, and reminding yourself that either you’re a beginner, or that you have something to learn.

You can overcome imposter syndrome and thrive as a leader. 

Thank you so much again for listening to today’s episode. I really do hope this has helped. If you haven’t had a chance yet, it would be great if you could leave a review for the show on whichever app you’re listening to this podcast. Thanks everyone, and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode.