How CEOs Can Banish Their ‘Imposter Monsters’

It may seem strange to consider that these high achievers at the top of their game and career suffer feelings of inadequacy, but you can spot it by “looking at exactly what it is that scares you, particularly when it comes to communication,” adds Susie Ashfield MD of Speak2Impact and a professional Speech Coach and TED Talk writer, helping the C-Suite learn, develop, and hone the art of public speaking.

For example, she adds, “As a professional public speaking coach, there is one question I ask my clients who suffer from stage fright, to give me a good steer on where the source of their fear is located – ‘Would you prefer to present to a room of 200 hundred strangers, or just six people who are senior to you in your industry?’ If they avoid the six senior professionals, it’s a good indicator to me that the client could be suffering from imposter syndrome.”

What both women at the top of their fields agree on, is that whilst imposter syndrome can push you to perform at your best, if it gets to a point where you’re questioning exactly what you have to offer your audience, then it’s time to face up to it.

According to Jenny Devonshire, “CEOs often experience imposter syndrome because they have a great deal of responsibility and no one to confide in. Most have probably worked incredibly hard to get to where they are, but despite this may feel as though they don’t deserve their success, are ill-equipped to lead and that others will find this out.”

Both Ashfield and Devonshire recognise that a little Imposter Syndrome – like stress – can be beneficial in driving you to strive for your best. However, if the Imposter Monster lurking beneath is hindering your route to success, both coaches have compiled some of the top tools up their professional sleeves, to help you tackle the monster within. Devonshire goes on to add, “As with many limiting belief systems, simply understanding why we feel the way we do can help to reduce the feelings of anxiety associated with it.”

A useful place to start is by working out what type of Imposter Monster lurks beneath your route to success – because apparently there are five!”

Jenny Devonshire on Spotting the 5 Imposter Monsters:

  1. The Perfectionist

Perfectionism is associated with several behaviours such as procrastination, but it is also one of the types of imposter syndrome. Perfectionists are never satisfied with their work as they strive for unrealistically high standards and when they fail to meet them, they experience imposter syndrome – often despite their work being beyond the level expected or required.

Signs you are a perfectionist:

  • You always place high expectations upon yourself.
  • You’re never satisfied with your work.
  • Even if a piece of work or presentation does well, you’ll focus on a minor detail you weren’t

happy with.

  • Everything must be the best, anything less than this is a failure.
  1. The Natural Genius

The Natural Genius believes that people are born talented or skilled, this is called a fixed mindset. The alternative to this has been coined the ‘growth mindset’ by Psychologist Carol Dwek, where individuals believe that their abilities can be developed by hard work and therefore see failures or setbacks as opportunities for growth rather than causing them to give up.

Natural Geniuses may compare themselves to others that have been doing the job for a lot longer than them and falsely believe this is a sign that they are not good enough, rather than realising that expertise takes time to develop. Natural Geniuses are also likely to question their abilities in the face of setback.

Signs you are a Natural Genius:

  • You believe people are naturally gifted, skilled or born talented.
  • You get frustrated easily if you are not instantly proficient at a skill.
  • You perceive everyone around you as successful whilst believing that you are the only one

experiencing failures or difficulties.

  1. The Expert

The Expert always wants more knowledge, qualifications, experience, or awards to help them feel like they are good enough at what they do. Unfortunately, they will never achieve this as the lack of self-belief comes from within. Even if they are hugely successful and receive positive feedback, promotions, or accolades, they still feel like a fraud and worry others will find out that they aren’t as good as everyone thinks.

Signs you are an Expert:

  • You never believe you know enough or are qualified enough.
  • You avoid applying for jobs or promotions as you don’t meet all the


  • Despite doing your job for years, you still don’t think you are good enough and discount any

praise whilst ruminating over criticism.

  1. The Rugged Individualist

Rugged Individualists don’t like asking for help as they believe this is a sign that they aren’t capable or don’t know what they are doing. Whilst being independent isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it is causing you to refuse assistance for fear of revealing your ‘phoniness; and this results in too much work and added stress, it is something you should try to overcome.

Signs you are a Rugged Individualist:

  • Do you believe you must accomplish everything on your own?
  • Do you feel like you need more time to prepare?
  • Do you avoid asking for help, even if you need it?
  1. The Superwoman/Man

Because those experiencing imposter syndrome are convinced they are ‘frauds’ amongst others who they perceive to be ‘legitimately talented’, they often push themselves to work harder and harder and take on more projects to prove themselves. Unfortunately, this won’t deal with their insecurities at the root cause and continued overworking can lead to exhaustion and burnout.

Signs you are a Superwoman/man:

  • Do you feel like you must work harder and longer to prove your worth?
  • Do you often work overtime, even more than the rest of your team?
  • Do you neglect your friends, family, or hobbies to dedicate more time to work?

Identifying the Imposter Monster haunting you is a great first step in learning how to challenge, change and work through those beliefs. Ashfield adds that these feelings may never leave you completely, and nor would you want them to, but helps clients fight the fear of not being enough with these six steps:

Professional Speech Coach Susie Ashfield’s 6 Steps to Talk Yourself Out of Feeling Like a Fraud:

  1. Reframing

It takes effort, but you have the power to change your mindset when it comes to performing. If you’re able to catch negative self-talk, try to replace it with something that’s altogether more stoic and realistic. For example: Instead of: “Oh god, I don’t want to let anyone here down and they’re all looking at me to lead them”, replace it with: “Isn’t it great that these guys have come to listen to what I have to say? They want to hear my message because it impacts them”.

  1. Acceptance

Accept that imposter syndrome, whilst unhelpful, is a normal way to be feeling. Imposter Syndrome is something that’s going to push you hard so that you perform at your best, but when it gets out of control it becomes a real block to your delivery.

By starting to tune into that voice that says you’re not good enough often puts you back in control of it. I’ve even had some clients even give it a name.

One client called the negative voice in their head ‘Barbara’ (after their mother-in-law). They eventually got to the point where they’d be able to hear Barbara piping up and they’d simply shrug ‘her’ off with a roll of their eyes. (I’d generally recommend choosing a name a bit further away from home though, for obvious reasons!)

  1. Examine the evidence

Has anyone ever jumped out of the audience, pointed at you, and said “I see you! You’re a fraud!” No? Then what evidence do you have to suggest that that’s ever going to happen?

I once worked with a female CEO who was convinced, she’d only been given the position because the board of her company wanted to ‘tick a box’. She completely ignored the fact that she’d been there since day 1, and over the years had worked her way up through the ranks and was extremely good at what she did.

Imposter syndrome causes us to think irrationally, focusing on worst-case scenarios that have never actually happened, whilst totally ignoring the huge bank of evidence that we have to support the idea that this is actually going to be completely fine. Just like it was last time and the time before that. Get a paper and pen and ask yourself, ‘what am I worried about?’ And then really explore whether your concern is reasonable or whether you’re giving power to a scenario that’s really far-fetched.

  1. Fake it to make it to become it

Here’s the thing: you don’t actually have to be feeling confident to make people believe that you are. For example, when my clients give speeches, they should be feeling a little bit nervous, because that’s normal. So, I get them to try to visualize them at their most confident and be specific with that image. How does the most confident version of you walk into the room? How do they look? How do they speak? Then, you can feel as nervous as you like, but you need to do a bit of acting.

You just need to pretend to be that person, even if that’s not who you are. This confident version of yourself that you’re projecting is exactly how the audience will read you, and they’ll respond accordingly. After a while, you’ll start to feel like this person who you’re pretending to be the same person you were all along. Magic!

  1. Be fair to yourself.

You are not going to perfectly deliver every time and I can guarantee there’s no such thing as a perfect talk, but if you hold yourself accountable to unachievable levels of brilliance then you’re going to feel like you miss the bar every single time.

Giving yourself a hard time is only going to make things feel worse, and suddenly you‘re adding to your anxiety more than you’re detracting from it. Don’t feel like you have to respond to the trend of artificial positivity either. Telling yourself ‘Failure is not an option! Good vibes only!’ is about as useful as saying ‘I’ve let myself and everyone around me down after that performance’. Instead, I’m asking you to be pragmatic and realistic: ‘this should go down well after all that time I spent practising’.

  1. Face it

Just do it. Just do it and see what happens.

If you have a fear of flying, there are courses available to you to help you overcome your phobia, but I should warn you that of all the courses I’ve looked at, the final exercise in the workshop is always the same: they make you go on a short flight. Exposure therapy is one of the best techniques out there to help tackle deep-rooted anxieties and it’s the same when it comes to facing up to your imposter syndrome.

By forcing yourself to do the very thing you’re losing sleep over, you’ll come to learn that it’s not quite as bad as you built it up to be. It’s a bit like the moment in the old Scooby-Doo cartoons when they finally catch the monster, pull off the mask and it turns out it was only the janitor after all. The unknown factor is always the scariest thing, so stop running from the monster, because once you’ve had that final face-off, you’ll realise there was nothing to worry about.

For workplace wellness expert Jen Devonshire, dealing with your Imposter Monster is both better for you and better for business, and encourages CEOs to support in instilling this work ethic throughout the organisation:

“Helping employees suffering from imposter syndrome makes good business sense as it impedes the performance of the individual and their team. Imposters tend to be the employees who are the most conscientious and hardworking, so it is important for them to feel supported and to help them reach their potential. It is often difficult for employees to bring up such conversations and therefore it is important for managers and bosses to start these conversations themselves and create a culture where the management demonstrate openness and understanding.”

How those at senior level can help Imposter Syndrome sufferers within the business:

Providing regular feedback to employees can be hugely beneficial for reducing the experience of imposter syndrome. Give specifics so that employees can’t discount this as the boss ‘just being nice’ or ‘feeling like they have to say something good’.

You could also encourage staff to focus on the process rather than just the outcome and break down big goals into weekly smaller ones so that their achievement can reinforce the fact that they are not an imposter.

You might also assign a mentor to these employees, as this can be extremely beneficial. Imposter syndrome develops because sufferers don’t feel that they deserve to have reached the role that they are in. A mentor from a similar demographic can help build their confidence as they can turn to them during times when they are struggling so that they feel supported and can be open about their imposter feelings so they can work together to dispute the legitimacy of these beliefs.

For CEOs seeking professional support specifically in dealing with Imposter Syndrome, or professional public speaking training, Ashfield and Devonshire offer the following courses and training:

Pause2Perform offers both a group workshop designed to help managers and employees of the company overcome their imposter syndrome. This workshop goes into detail about each of the different types of imposter syndrome and the different strategies that can be adopted to help overcome these. Jenny also provides tailor-made sessions which are delivered 1-1, these sessions are more appropriate for CEOs.

As a major tenet of imposter syndrome is the inability to internalise success, participants will be taken through reattribution training based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helping participants question their limiting beliefs and help them to own their success.

Speak2Impact specialise in working with clients to determine their specific needs and most importantly, delivering actual, visible results. Whether that be nailing a big speech, improving your presence, or tackling confidence concerns, Speak2Impact will get to the crux of the issue and suggest an approach that will deliver the results you need.

Susie’s clients learn, train, and perform before being assessed on their progress. Promising fast results, soaring confidence and your professional profile rising in a short space of time, Speak2Impact give you the tools and formulas to find your own unique style that will make public speaking bearable…even enjoyable.

Offering individual coaching and workshops for groups and teams, speech, keynote, and director-level coaching. Visit Contact Us – Speak2Impact to book a FREE 30-minute 121 session.

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