“So far I have been a great CEO, but I am not sure that I am the best person to take my company to the next level,” confided this CEO of a fast-growing company. It looked like his recipe for success didn’t work anymore: he was constantly fighting fires and couldn’t streamline his operations. He was trying though – unsuccessfully. In short: he felt stuck, overwhelmed, and doubted his ability to improve the situation.
I hear similar stories of “imposter syndrome” from many CEOs. The imposter syndrome is the belief, grounded in self-doubt and fear, that you don’t belong where you are. Often these CEOs’ reaction is to work harder to prove that they deserve to be in their position.
Unfortunately, this negatively impacts their performance: they are not at the top of their game because of increased self-doubt, persistent fears of failure, and long working hours. If you experience imposter syndrome, you need to tackle it head-on.
In a few instances, they are not the right person in the right seat indeed. Very often though they just lack tools, methodologies, and self-confidence to clarify their priorities to move more decisively toward their goals.
Many CEOs experience imposter syndrome
Many more CEOs and successful people than you may think experience at some point the imposter syndrome – even though few admit it openly, as Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz put it: “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.” Tom Hank once shared: “No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?”
Research estimates that 70% of the US population experiences it at some point in their life, and it disproportionately affects high-achievers:
- Facebook’s former COO Sheryl Sandberg admitted: “Every time I excelled, I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up. There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.”
- David Bowie struggled with self-esteem too: “I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing. I really felt so utterly inadequate.”
- Even Agatha Christie, despite selling two billion copies of her books: “I don’t know whether other authors feel it, but I think quite a lot do – that I’m pretending to be something that I’m not, because even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.”
Practically speaking: What can you start doing today?
Find out practical ways to deal with your imposter syndrome here: Do you sometimes feel that you are not good enough? – Ambrose Growth | Business Coaching.