Over the years, I have worked with and managed a lot of different people, none of them the same in any material way. Sure, some share “types” some even stereotypes. But for some, confidence in their abilities, how they stack up against their peers and other colleagues, can become a disarming distraction. I have seen people suffer and ultimately fail to reach their potential, just because they don’t believe they are good enough or worthy of the challenges they are facing.

This quirk of the mind is known as the imposter syndrome, I’ll leave wikipedia to explain it in detail.

Adapting for individuality

Whether it is driven by stress, a deep seated, unconfident interpretation of their own abilities, or whether they hold themselves to impossibly high standards; the result is the same. Inertia and often an uncomfortable sense of failing or impending exposure.

It is hugely important that their direct line manager attempts to understand these feelings to effectively tailor the way they are managed, to avoid making the problem worse. Almost without exception, the people I have led that have battled with their imposters have been significantly more talented than they gave themselves credit for.


They can’t see that they are better than they think they are.

The opposite of this mindset is a different perception problem, best described by David Dunning and Justin Kruger in the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Principally, this is where a person considers their abilities to be significantly better than they are in reality. We’ve all met people like this, who proclaim expertise, but lack the ability to perform or to even see they are not up to the job.

They can’t see that they are not as good as they think they are.


In my experience, I have worked with more people with rampant imposters than delusional Dunning-Krugers, so I am going to focus on dealing with the imposter.

Objectivity and Evidence

There are objective ways to prompt the thought processes amongst these kinds of people, with feedback and evidence that indicates the reality of their abilities. It is important for their managers to describe how their abilities are different to their internal interpretation of them; helping them build a realistic self awareness of their abilities and how it’s normal that they will naturally ebb and flow.

I have personally kept a detailed annual account of all my achievements, personal and professional for a long time. I am as granular as I can be about logging successes, and failures, and I use this history when reviewing where I have been at year end. I recommend people with problematic imposters keep a similar record to remind themselves of how they have performed in any given timeframe. To also go back in time and create this data for as far back as they can go. We are all so used to moving forward, we rarely look back and appreciate what we have achieved. Eventually the history is lost or diluted by our imposters to near zero in terms of value. Externalising it, writing it down to look at later, is an excellent antidote to a pesky imposter.


Evidence is key, practical and factual evidence is an antidote for imposter syndrome.

As explained in my previous article Taming the Inner Critic, there is a need to control the internal voice that fuels the sense of being an imposter, to disarm it with reality, and in my case, fiction, to stop it creating catastrophic scenarios and enervating failures in our future. Coaching people through failures, as natural waypoints on a learning journey is also very helpful. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, we need to be nice to ourselves, learn from our failures and move on, unperturbed.

The Confidence Scale

This means keeping confidence in the green zone and slightly on the positive side of the mid point on the scale below. When coaching people that are struggling with their imposter, this visual concept can be helpful.

The imposter and self delusion become increasingly magnetic as the needle approaches, easily crashing into the red zone. The needle should waver between progress and regress, as human nature shows us that we learn and improve through trial and error, learning and failing in cycles, until we succeed or move on.


The needle leaning slightly forward or centre, as it does above, illustrates the need to consciously decide to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to our abilities. To do this from a place of confidence, driven by our evidence and knowing that we are just human, like everyone else, irrespective of status, wealth or expertise.

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