What Liz Truss can teach us about the positives of imposter syndrome

Dr Almira Ross explains why a healthy dose of imposter syndrome can benefit leadership skills

What Liz Truss can teach us about the positives of imposter syndrome

It’s been reported that an aide to former prime minister Liz Truss, who is currently promoting her book about her very short time in Number 10, commented she had no imposter syndrome and could have benefited from more of it. This observation raises important questions about the role of imposter syndrome in success and personal development and whether it can sometimes be a driver for self-awareness and for being a better leader.

Imposter syndrome is extremely common and affects approximately 70 percent of individuals at some point in their lives. It is often viewed as a barrier to achievement, with people doubting their skills, talents and accomplishments and fearing being exposed as a fraud. This fear can hold people back and lead to missed opportunities and stalled progress. However, there’s another, more positive side to this syndrome—one which can serve as a catalyst for growth and self-improvement and lead to being a better and more successful leader.

The imposter is an archetype, a way of being human that is instantly recognisable, throughout time and across cultures.  The concept of the imposter, derived from the French word ‘imposteur’, refers to someone who deceives others by assuming a false identity. Feeling like an imposter—experiencing self-doubt and a sense of not belonging—is a universal human experience. However, despite its negative connotations, imposter syndrome can alert us to our shortcomings and motivate us to take action to learn, grow, and develop new skills.

While initially believed to predominantly affect women, recent research has shown that imposter syndrome impacts both men and women equally. As with all archetypes, the imposter has both a light side and a shadow side. The under-expressed shadow side manifests as self-doubt and hesitation and can prevent individuals from realising their full potential. 

The over expressed imposter however, emerges when that self-doubt triggers over confidence and bravado in an attempt to mask the feeling that you don’t belong. This aspect of the imposter is especially dangerous as over-confidence can lead to feeling invincible, taking unnecessary risks and developing an autocratic leadership style, potentially damaging your business or career. For such individuals, especially those in positions of leadership or influence such as Liz Truss in the position of prime minister, a healthy dose of self-doubt could well be beneficial.

The healthy expression of the imposter alerts you to your shortcomings and encourages you to take positive action to learn from others and develop new skills.  By using your imposter syndrome in a more dispassionate way, you can recognise your shortcomings which can motivate you to work smarter.  They can also make you a better learner.  If you doubt your competence or knowledge, you’re more likely to seek out others to fill the gaps in your knowledge and with a healthy dose of self-doubt, you’re likely to be more empathic, more effective at answering questions and better at sharing information.

Instead of ignoring your imposter fears when they crop up, and doing what you’ve always done, get curious.  What brought this on? Be as specific as you can in identifying exactly what triggers your imposter syndrome. What someone said, the tone of voice, the situation, how tired or stressed you happen to be… There could be numerous factors causing you to behave in a certain way.

This approach means that you’re aware of the situations where you’re likely to slip into that under expressed or over expressed imposter and that gives you a choice: do what you’ve always done, or choose something more resourceful. What can you learn from this? How can you fill the gaps in your knowledge? How else might you respond? Gradually you’ll build your confidence and come to view your imposter as a trusted friend.

There are times when imposter syndrome can be a good thing and times when it’s likely to scupper your success and have a negative impact on you as an individual and as a leader, either because you doubt yourself and hold back, or because you’re over-confident and act brashly.  By identifying and analysing what triggers your self-doubt, you will develop the  awareness to learn and grow and further ensure your success. And hopefully, last longer in your role than a lettuce.

Dr Almira Ross
Dr Almira Ross

Share via
Copy link