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What is imposter syndrome?Female Leaders and the Challenge of the Imposter Syndrome

By Karla Schlaepfer
Professional Coaching, Leadership, Inner Team

Beyond People-Pleasing, Navigating Sensitivity and Strengths

What is the so-called “Imposter Syndrome”? 🤔

In my role as an executive coach specializing in leadership, I’ve encountered numerous female leaders exhibiting signs of Imposter Syndrome. This concept, identified by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, describes a situation where external achievements don’t align with internal self-perception. Talented and accomplished women often attribute their professional success to luck rather than their skills and efforts. They fear being “caught out” or exposed as not competent enough.

Do you have “Imposter Syndrome”?

It’s crucial to understand that Imposter Syndrome is a state of mind, not an illness! 🌟 This mindset often includes a loud Inner Critic, a mental voice filled with self-doubt, assumptions, and criticism. It can amplify feelings of fraudulence. Managing this Inner Critic through awareness, challenging negative thoughts, and fostering self-compassion is key to rewriting your narrative.

What is the Inner Team?

Beyond the challenges posed by the Inner Critic, there’s a helpful technique (Schulz von Thun) known as the Inner Team. This cognitive behavioral model envisions various imaginary personas within us – like the Inner Mentor, offering wisdom and guidance; the Realist, who keeps our ambitions in check; and the positive Optimist plus others that you identify and name. Together, these personality traits form a self-structured team that provide neuro-diverse perspectives and once accepted, useful insights.

The Role of the Inner Team and Leadership

This Inner Team can be used to achieve a more balanced outlook, especially in complex decision-making and managing emotional responses. For leaders, tapping into this multifaceted internal dialogue is important. Incorporating your Inner Team in leadership isn’t just about making decisions; it’s about embracing a more holistic view of yourself.It offers you a more rounded, self-aware approach to who you are and how this is reflected in your leadership style. By engaging with these different aspects of their personality, leaders can navigate challenges more effectively and lead with greater empathy and insight. Accepting and working with these “voices” allows for a sense of inner alignment and confidence, which is essential for effective and authentic leadership style.

Imposter Syndrome and Sensitivity

Imposter Syndrome often coincides with tendencies like automatic people-pleasing and heightened sensitivity. Leaders stuck in this cycle might give into others’ demands, due to an acute awareness of outside perceptions. Recognizing these automatic responses and their sensitivity roots could spark a shift from self-doubt to self-assurance, a change that can be facilitated by understanding and applying the dynamics of the Inner Team or other coaching models.

Strengths in Leadership Styles

A core part of my coaching involves guiding leaders to challenge negative thought patterns and leverage their strengths. We focus on recognizing unhelpful assumptions, internalized beliefs, understanding their sensitivity and neuro-diversity roots, and shifting focus from self-doubt to self-awareness. A fantastic easy to make is a “brag book” – a record of positive affirmations and accomplishments, to counter self-doubt with reminders of positive and meaningful experiences 🥰

Positive Affirmations and Authentic Self-Expression

Affirmations are positive, empowering statements that, when repeated often, can help to overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. They’re particularly effective in transforming one’s mindset from self-doubt to self-assurance. For instance, affirmations like “I deserve my success” or “My contributions are valuable,” or even “I am learning” can help bolster a sense of confidence. Plus they can help you tap into your better self. Leaders might use affirmations tailored to their personal challenges, say, before a difficult conversation or presentation. By regularly practicing these affirmations, even better connecting them with breath-work, leaders can cultivate a habit of positive self-talk and guidance gradually replacing the critical voice of the Inner Critic with a more supportive internal dialogue.

While positive affirmations and self-talk are extremely important, genuine self-expression is equally important. It counters the tendency to try to please others at the expense of your own voice. Embracing both sensitivity and assertiveness as complementary traits enhances an authentic leadership style.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: From Self-Doubt to Empowerment

“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman,” Melinda Gates reminds us. Overcoming Imposter Syndrome is about turning self-doubt into empowerment, reshaping interactions and influence through both the Inner Critic and Inner Team, paving the way for authentic, impactful leadership. 🌟

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome is about transforming self-doubt into empowerment. It’s about reshaping your influence and interactions through an understanding of both the Inner Critic and Inner Team, setting the stage for leadership that’s not only effective but also deeply authentic.


Interested in exploring how these tools can amplify your impact? I’m here to guide you. Reach out to me, Karla, for a personalized coaching consultation and start your journey towards empowered, authentic leadership today.

Karla Schlaepfer