How the Imposter in You Can Derail Your Leadership

Lead From Within, Lolly Daskal, Imposter Syndrome

How many times in your life have you wanted to achieve something significant but were stopped by an inner voice?

How many times in your leadership have you wanted to move to the next level but heard something inside saying, “No, you’re not ready”?

These voice—the one that tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, capable enough, worthy enough, or ready for the next step—is the voice of the imposter within you. The imposter wants to hold you back and prevent you from doing the things you dream about. It’s sabotaging you in the guise of protecting you.

The imposter’s voice is the voice of fear—fear of vulnerability, fear of shame—and it will work to keep you from trying new things or taking bold action. Here are five ways the imposter can derail your leadership:

The imposter compares. Most of us spend too much time looking over our shoulder to see how successful, how accomplished, how smart someone else is and how we measure up. There will always be someone who appears to be smarter, better, faster, wiser, leaner than you are. It can be exhausting trying to keep up with everyone, and comparing yourself to others leads to nothing but frustration. Measure your accomplishments within yourself. Don’t look at others but ask yourself daily what you can do better tomorrow.

The imposter wants to please everyone. When you feel insufficient it’s a short leap to wanting to always please everyone, even though you know it’s impossible. Trying to please all is a no-win situation; leadership is not about pleasing people but empowering them—and that means sometimes pushing them to the edge of their discomfort zone. If you’re trying to please everyone you are doing harm to your leadership.

The imposter is an overachiever. When your to-do list that is longer than you can manage, you need to step back. Delegate to the gifted and talented people you’ve surrounded yourself with. When you do, you help keep your own workload manageable and you empower others to lead and grow.

The imposter is a perfectionist. There are few things more unhealthy than an either-or system in which you’re either perfect or a failure. Perfection isn’t real, and the sooner a leader knows that the less they will feel like an imposter. Don’t reach for perfection but concentrate doing your best to the best of your ability in a way that shows people that what you do you take pride in. Remember that your actions send a message to those you lead.

The imposter feels like a fraud. The saying “fake it till you make it” is certainly popular. But it can be a damaging message. Pretending to be something else while you’re trying to figure it out isn’t authentic or genuine. Don’t fight the imposter by pretending that you deserve your success—learn to believe it, and then let the rest fall into place.

Lead from within. The imposter within you will try to sabotage you and play havoc with who you are and what you can accomplish. The only effective way to combat it is to take full charge of your capabilities and competence and lead with confidence, because greatness lies within you.

N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R

The Leadership Gap
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Kevin McReynolds

    28. Apr, 2017

    Wow Lolly! I think this post gives great insight into the imposter that lives in us all. At one point or another I think this is something that we all battle with. Now that I am thinking about this, I think I have lived my whole life as an imposter because I often like to put more on my plate then I can handle. I do this because I always aim to be a perfectionist.

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    • Bruce Harrison

      29. Apr, 2017

      As with all else, I guess it depends on current and relevant context. I’m an adjunct professor teaching (but just as well learning from) graduate students at Georgetown university for a decade now. In that context, I’m seeing successive classes rising restlessness. The focus of real world engagement appears shifting toward positions, roles of purpose, less enterprise ladder climbing, than linking with purposeful peers. The evidence of empathetic, purpose-directed leadership seems to be the door more likely to be knocked on by today’s enterprise aspirants, and they seem to me at least to be honest and open, ready to strengthen enterprise return on investments.

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  2. David Cobb

    29. Apr, 2017

    Lolly i can Relate two a couple Points Here? The Imposter and the Pleaser, When I was Just Starting out With Bally Corp as a Gm, My Reputation was going the extra mile to Train and Develop Staff, Corporate Eventually asked me to Become A National Sales Trainer , but the Imposter in May said Dave you’re not ready yet or what happens if you don’t succeed you will be embarrassed and ashamed, also the people pleaser in me listened to my fellow colleagues in the field telling me just stay in the field as a general manager it is better I wanted my fellow colleagues approvals so I ended up not taking the sales training position, I learned a couple really valuable lessons from that experience the first one was that I needed to listen to my heart and instincts more often because after not taking that promotion I felt really bad for a couple years because I knew I should have taken that opportunity but I left the Imposter and the people pleaser in me hold me back another observation I would like to make is the same people who discourage me from taking that promotion when it was time for them to take a promotion they took advantage of it and in one instance I ended up working for the guy, the good news is I was eventually offered and area VP position with my company and yes I did take advantage of that offer because I learned that the Imposter and the people pleaser are very real when you are in a leadership position, my message here is do not let either one of these block your success!

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  3. Sangay Thinley

    13. Feb, 2018

    Lolly, I think I am imposter. My root teacher says we should help others, including animals. When I help others to get their job done, they are happy and pleased. So, I am pleasing them all which according to you is not the quality of leadership. The truth is I am happy and satisfied which I feel is equally important.

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