Do you ever have a secret fear that you are going to be exposed as a fraud?

Do you sometimes think that people give you too much credit, and that maybe you are really not that good at your job?

Have you ever attributed your success to good luck?

Then you might have Imposter Syndrome, and you’re in good company!

Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, I’ve run a game on everybody, and I’m about to be found out.’”

Jodie Foster has been quoted as saying, “I thought the Oscar was a fluke. I expected people to come knocking on my door and say, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to Meryl Streep.’”

Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard grad and Facebook COO, told an interviewer, “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud.”

Imposter Syndrome is a term coined by psychologists in the 1970s to describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Impostor Syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt and has the following hallmarks:

  • Feeling like a fake
  • Attributing success to luck or charm
  • Discounting success due to “help”

There is evidence to suggest that Imposter Syndrome correlates with successful people who are highly intelligent and diligent at their jobs. Some studies report the rate of Imposter Syndrome as high as 80 to 90 percent of high-achieving people.

What does this mean for the training industry? Most people who enter training for any high-potential job are likely to have Imposter Syndrome, from students to CEOs. If this experience were considered standard in most leadership positions, people would be better able to deal with it, no matter their career path or job title. We can level the playing field with awareness and render a great service to everyone who has ever experienced this constellation of negative feelings.

As training professionals, how can we normalize Imposter Syndrome?

  • Have an open conversation about it. Knowing that Imposter Syndrome is a real experience helps many people to identify when and where it shows up for them.
  • Encourage employees to view the “Imposter” as a voice circulating in their mind. Actually meaning no harm, this voice compels them to stay in their comfort zone, where there is no sign of risk or failure. Once seen as a voice of self-preservation, this voice can now safely be ignored.
  • Urge people to see the bigger picture with a healthy dose of perspective. Help them focus more on the experience they want to create rather than the “To-Dos” that will get them there. It’s the intention that’s the most important part. For example, tell your writers to write without being attached to the outcome of getting published (especially when no book yet exists).
  • Persuade them to give up the notion that they will have something to offer only when they reach the expert level, earn an advanced degree or achieve another accreditation. People can benefit by the information they possess right now!
  • Compel learners to tap into their purpose. What’s the intention of their industry? If you can help them connect their company vision with their own values, you create very powerful ownership, and the feeling of fraudulence fades away.

Perhaps the best thing we can do is help the people we are training to embrace their Imposter with compassion. Help them give it a voice and listen to it. Once it has been heard, the Imposter does something interesting: It quells and becomes less audible. With this insight, people under your tutelage can move forward with greater confidence and credibility.

Maria Glenn is an executive coach and leadership trainer who has a passion for inspiring individuals to realize their full capabilities. In 2009, Maria co-founded Trinitáz Coaching Systems Inc., as a vehicle to custom design corporate and group trainings that enhance leadership, improve productivity and reach goal attainment. Trinitáz offers a wide range of programs and services, from individual coaching to corporate engagements with teams.