Skillsoft Blog

Is Imposter Syndrome Holding You Back?

The second post in a five-part blog series on women in leadership


By Priti Shah

What do you consider your greatest achievement? How did you accomplish this? Did others help? Did you earn it? Did you deserve the outcome? Your answers to these questions may depend on your gender. When it comes to recognizing achievement – there is a difference in the way men and women perceive themselves and their accomplishments.

“Men are more likely to attribute their success to internal factors (their ability and effort) and their failure to external factors (task difficulty and luck), whereas women are more likely to attribute their success to external factors and their failure to internal factors.”[1]

Imposter syndrome is a term used to describe highly accomplished women who suffer from the feeling that they are imposters. These women feel they do not belong where they are and they don’t deserve what they have accomplished through their own talent and hard work. This widespread phenomenon was first documented by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 study of 150 highly successful professional women in various fields. “Despite accolades, rank, and salary, these women felt like phonies. They didn’t believe in their own accomplishments; they felt they were scamming everyone about their skills.”[2]

Why are women shortchanging themselves and their accomplishments? How is this affecting the way women perform in their professional lives? What cost is paid by women who don’t have an accurate perception of their value and performance? There are no definitive answers and we don’t yet know the full implications of how imposter syndrome may be hindering women’s performance in their professional lives.

So what can you do if imposter syndrome is holding you back? Try some of these ideas.

Be on the lookout for negative self-talk. Replace critical thoughts and judgements of yourself with validation of what you are doing well. Talk kindly to yourself. Be aware of times when you are judging and criticizing yourself. Stop to reflect and reframe. “My sales numbers weren’t as high as I wanted” can be reframed as “My sales numbers were high and I worked hard. Next quarter, I’m projected to do even better.”

Take credit. When you accomplish tasks or goals – take time to notice what you did right. “That project took 6 months to complete and we made our deadline,” or “My communication skills helped me negotiate that contract,” or “Today I uncovered three new leads.” No matter how big or small the accomplishment – acknowledge the good.

Find support. Talk with your mentor or sponsor. Share your concerns with them. Share your successes and accomplishments. Ask for their perspective. Accept that there is always room for improvement and be open to their feedback.

Leave a comment below to share how you’re applying what you learned in today’s post. Subscribe to receive new blog post notifications. Submit your email address via the form on the right.

Coming next week is 4 Steps to Creating Your Personal Brand.

Priti Shah is Vice President, Leadership Product Strategy & Corporate Development at Skillsoft

[1] The Imposter Syndrome: Why do so many successful women feel they are frauds? Psychology Today, 2009.

[2] Ibid

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