Do you feel like an Imposter at work?

In this latest BLOG, founder of Xsector Mentor Andrew Penker and executive coach David Brown explore the Imposter phenomenon.

So what is Imposter Syndrome?

  • feeling like a fraud, despite your achievements
  • self-doubt, perfectionism, or fear of failure
  • discounting your successes and struggling to accept praise, or
  • working excessively hard to prove yourself

Originally described ‘the imposter phenomenon’ by Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, two clinical psychologists in 1978, their studies related to female professionals who ‘did not experience an internal sense of success’ and considered themselves ‘imposters’ at work.

This led to the result of their research being a condition in which people believe they are not worthy of success and have a persistent belief in their lack of competence. It meant that people who were achieving success had intense feelings that these achievements were undeserved, and were more to do with mistake or luck, than performance.

Being ‘Found out’

These feelings are often invisible to others and can affect jobs, relationships, and friendships. It can range from occasional worries to fears of being ‘found out,’ and can cause self-doubt, fear, and shame, making it hard to enjoy personal and professional living.


For many, the label can be off-putting and be dismissed as invalid but if it were reframed to whether an individual has ever felt ‘inadequate’ at work, would these feelings be more readily recognised and accepted?

You may experience any or all of these, and others too:

  • walking into a room full of senior people and feeling a sense of intimidation
  • being overly hard on yourself for missing out something from the presentation you gave the other day (even though there’s no evidence of any negative reaction)
  • not having the faintest idea where to start when given a project or piece of work that you’ve never tackled before
  • you find yourself second-guessing your answers to the questions that people ask you.


The impact on behaviours, and how people feel emotionally and physically, can largely be negative. The positive side is that it can provide motivation and drive for people to achieve and exceed, however the negative aspects of overwork, self-criticism, and self-doubt are toxic and lead to feeling inadequate.

Often, during times of transition or change, or when people are faced with new challenges, can exacerbate these feelings.

What to do?

Moving from the familiarity of what is known and experienced can be daunting in itself but letting go and establishing a shift in mindset and approach can be achieved.

An Executive coach or Mentor can help provide time and space and psychological safety in exploring how to make this change. They are professionals who are trained to structure conversations that can lead to behavioural change and different outcomes, and can often take only a few sessions as well as a more sustained supportive challenge to get people to where they aspire to be.

Next Steps

We are interested in hearing more about how professionals are dealing with these feelings and whether through the sharing of their experiences and ways they have addressed these feelings, there are learnings for others who wish to do the same.

To start, we want to simply raise a level of awareness and encourage people to start having a conversation about it, either with peers, or with their managers and leaders. Only by surfacing it, will we be able to begin tackling it.

In the rest of this series we plan to scratch below the surface, and look at how coaching and mentoring could enable ways to recognise and deal with these feelings.

But for now, let’s just start the conversation.