Do you have Imposter Syndrome…?


Ever have that sinking feeling that today is going to be the day when you finally get caught out ? The day when the mistakes, white lies and near misses of your past are finally going to catch up with you? And everything you have, will slowly start to unravel as you are revealed as a fraud?

If so then read on…you are not alone, research has suggested that over 70% of us feel this way sometimes. Maybe a bit of science might calm your heart-rate?

The technical term given to it in 1978 by 2 American psychologists is “imposter syndrome”. It is so called because you feel yourself to be an “imposter” somehow living a life that you do not rightly deserve. That you don’t really have the skills and expertise at the level your position or salary seems to merit.

You may remember a Talking Heads song with the lines “You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile and you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, Well, how did I get here ?..”

In our house we call Imposter Syndrome “running from the blagging police” – we laugh over a beer about an old fashioned bobby, running red faced towards us and simultaneously blowing a whistle. When he finally catches up, he puts a friendly but firm hand on our shoulder and says “Come on mate. Times up. You’ve had a good run at it but it is time to admit you don’t really know what you are doing and hand back the car/house/wife.”

I have had clients who have told me that their life has changed quite literally overnight when they realised this was “real” thing. When I told them that research suggested this was the number 1 coaching topic for Executives you could almost hear their sigh of relief. I don’t like to refer to it as a “syndrome” anymore. It makes it sound like an illness or something quite rare. Now that we know it is part of the human experience for most people, I talk about it as Imposter Thinking – Here are the tips that I share with my clients so that they can not let Imposter Thinking get in their way. I hope they help you too.

Accept Imposter Thinking is a normal part of being successful. 

Success usually relies on taking a few risks. Without taking some risks we can’t really make any mistakes. And we get our best learning from getting things a bit wrong and trying again. So making mistakes, rescuing some near misses and flying by the seat of your pants sometimes are likely to be part of the reason you are successful…Not evidence of the opposite!

Accept Imposter Thinking as an inevitable consequence of our brains not being wired to hear other people’s thoughts

We can only judge other people by what we see on the outside. By their results and outputs. What they say and do. We judge ourselves from the inside and judge ourselves based on our intentions. We process thousands of thoughts every minute. Thus we know intimately about every single time we had a near miss, or something we achieved was frankly down to a good dose of luck or chance. There are millions of pieces of evidence. But there are millions of pieces of evidence in everyone else’s mind too. It’s just that we can’t know about them. We simply don’t and can’t see into the minds of other people like we do our own.

Do the Maths – there are worse things to be than an Imposter…

Bertrand Russell said “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. Think about it. You have probably worked with enough people to have seen a few idiots and some wild overconfidence at first hand. Given that research suggests that 70% of people suffer from Imposter syndrome at some point and clinicians estimate that around 4% of the population are sociopaths and 1% are psychopaths….Yeah…Do the Maths. I’m blunt with my clients sometimes. “Don’t worry – it’s just evidence that you aren’t stupid or a psychopath”

If you feel like an Imposter sometimes, you are in good company

Many other, extremely successful people feel this way too. Take Sheryl Sandberg who says “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am”. Howard Schulz describes how the experience doesn’t diminish if you get more senior. He said of the CEO’s that he knows that “very few people whether you have been in the job before or not, get into the seat and believe, today, that they are qualified”. It’s not restricted to business. Maya Angelou a hugely gifted writer who has won Tony’s, Grammy’s and been shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize wrote “I have written 11 books but each time I think “uh-oh” they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out”. There have been countless articles written on this topic – the Harvard Business Review, the BBC, The Guardian, The Times. It’s really not just you…

There are some things that have really helped me and my clients. They might help you too…

When it happens, welcome it. It is simply evidence that despite your success, you haven’t got too big for your boots and your brain still wants to learn more.

Accept you don’t have to achieve perfection to deserve what you have. No one is perfect or the finished article. And if you thought you were perfect…well…revert back to doing the Maths!

Realise that you can reduce the risks. You can set your bar lower so it will happen less often. But you will also be pretty mediocre by your own standards.

Don’t expect it to get any better – another promotion or more success won’t make this go away. If anything, you will just get more “evidence” that you have been over-promoted!

Actively work with smart, honest people who have different strengths to you. Make it safe for them to give you feedback. You can stop worrying you will miss something because they’ll let you know.

You have a choice about how much power to let it have. Decide not to give it head-space and energy that could be better spent reflecting on the facts that underpin your success and learning from mistakes.

Focus on what you did do when something went well. Not what you didn’t do. You don’t have to have done everything perfectly for the end result to be good enough. Remember the 80:20 rule.

Help your self and others by naming what it is. Dare to be vulnerable when your instincts are telling you to keep your cards close to your chest. It made it less insidious and easier to laugh about it.

Use the “worried” feeling that you don’t know enough to your advantage. Remember you are seeing things with fresh eyes. Research shows that many scientific breakthroughs come from non-experts daring to ask a “stupid question”

If it pops up, congratulate yourself that it is probably evidence you are conscientious, reflective, honest and modest. Would you really want to NOT feel it and be the opposite of those ?

For more information on coaching to help with Imposter Thinking get in touch at or to train teams on how to overcome it, ask us for help at

Why doesn’t training stick ?


After years in senior HR roles and managing large teams of people, I was frustrated when we spent time and money on training that didn’t seem to impact on the day job. I would have understood if the training wasn’t very good ! But often this was brilliant training that was delivered by great people, using sound business models and robust research. More often than not, “happy sheets” would provide feedback that the training was great. More often than not almost all the delegates would say that they would definitely use the skills back in the workplace.

So I wanted to do know more about why people who were keen to use the skills back in the workplace, didn’t end up doing so. And what I could do about it.

Cue – lots of research, conversations with training professionals and good old fashioned thinking later…There is one element of the training that I now know from experience can make all the difference. (Clue…it is not the quality of your slides…)

The interest and the involvement of the line manager – before and after the training – makes a significant and measurable difference as to whether training makes a difference to the business. 

It sounds so simple and so obvious. But come on…Let’s be honest. When I was a busy line manager, could I, hand on heart, say that I made proper time to have a powerful conversation with everyone who worked with me, in order make the training investment I had made really count? 

No I can’t. And not for bad reasons. 

What were my excuses…Err…The main one was that I trusted them to get on with it by themselves. They were capable people. I was sure they would ask if they wanted help…Right?

Well no. Not according to some of the best people I have spoken to who have 100s of years of experience between them. And not according to some of the latest research about what makes us work at work.

Knowledge moving from a classroom to the front line requires the line manager to proactively do something. Trusting people to get on with it sounds like empowerment, but it often doesn’t lead to a new behaviour or a new idea making it into the day to day work life of your teams. 

Put simply, the science says your teams will mainly focus their minds on what you talk about and what you “reward” with your attention. 

If you don’t talk to them about what they have just learned and help them to think how they want to use it, 8 weeks later, more than 80% of it will be forgotten. 

“I’d love to do that but I just don’t have the time…” Is a common response I get when I challenge a line manager to do this well. The great news is that I have found a few simple ways to do this that really work. 

People who have used it tell me it’s fast and actually quite rewarding.

We use the GROW model as a tool. It’s simple, it works and most people know it. Perhaps we could have invented new acronym, but why bother when this works just great ? We keep it simple.

If you are a line manager and one of your team is going on a training course, give them 4 minutes of your undivided attention and ask them a good “G” question and a good “R” question. 

When they get back to work, give then another 4 minutes of your undivided attention and ask them a good “O” and a good “W” question. 

Of course, ask more than 1 question if you like. Give them 7 minutes of your undivided attention by all means! However, our research suggests just 2 questions asked before one of your team attends training has a remarkable effect. Promise. 

If your mind is blank (or one of your team is meeting you in 2 minutes and you can’t think of a great question…!), then give these a try. You could always build on them to make them more personal. 

Pre Training               

G (GOAL) Questions:

What are you hoping to get from the training ?

How are you going to measure if attending this training was a success for you (and/or the Company)

What would you love to be saying to me if I called you in the car on the way home after the training?

R (REALITY) Questions:

What is stopping you being really good at this already ? (You may want to probe if this is down to “Skill” or “Will” if you have the time)

What will stop you making the most of this opportunity to learn or practise your skills ?

Are you really up for this? What could change that?
Post Training (ideally within 24 hours but 78 hours max)

O (OPTIONS) Questions:

What things do you want to do differently as a result of the learning ?

What could you start doing differently today?

What could you do and what will you do ? What’s the difference ?

W (WHAT NEXT) Questions:

How will we measure how successful you have been ?

What can I do to help ?

What do you want me to do if you don’t deliver on your good intentions ?

Give it a go. Let us know if it works or how you improve upon it. 
And contact us at to find out more about the full Tea Break Training model. We’d love to include your successes in our research…

Is coaching and mentoring more about great questions or great listening ?


When I am training new coaches and providing feedback, one thing they tell often confide is “Yeah, I know I’d stopped listening properly…it was because I was thinking about the right question to ask next.”
So how can you learn to pose the right question in the right way? Without thinking too much about thinking about the question…because that inhibits your ability to listen well?!
I can’t say I have found all the answers, but I have got some experience and been given some great feedback that has helped me. Before I start with the specifics, a great piece of overarching feedback I once received was “None of us are ever the finished article, Dulcie, so let it be OK you are not perfect every time”. Thinking of this helps me to reflect on my coaching in a positive way – and not give myself too hard a time when I find I could still could do better, despite over 10 years of coaching!
First, the old adage that we have 1 mouth and 2 ears…It’s probably more relevant when coaching than at other points in your management day. Sometimes the old ones are the best. Sometimes if I find that I am asking too many questions and taking up too much of the air time, this will pop into my head. And that is enough to help me to re-focus on the coachee and less on me. Because frankly if I am spending too much of the coachees time thinking about my questions, then my ego is getting in the way of my ability to help. Just trust that if you are wondering whether to listen or speak, stay schtum…Silence is your friend as a coach. Use it.
Second, have a few “saviours” up your sleeve. Questions to get you out of a lack of listening hole !! It can be relatively easy to stop yourself spending time in unproductive thoughts about the quality of your next question. But what then. You stop yourself. You realise you have not been listening as well as you could. You zone back in. Shit! You have lost the thread of what the coachee is saying. Don’t panic. It happens. It happens less with practise. But for now, try a saviour. They are questions that tend to help coachees at any point. So it’s not cheating. Just you finding a solution that works to being human…
“I’m curious about what that means for you?”
“What do you think might be going on under the surface for you?”
“What are you wondering right now?”
Or if all else fails (and anyone who has been in coaching training with me will now be envisaging John Travolta…)
“Tell me more”
Thirdly, Know that this does come with practise. So clock up the hours, but just as importantly, reflect afterwards. Notice when you were focusing more on you and your brilliant question to come, than on them. Noticing and being curious about why that is for yourself will get you there.
A final thought. Give yourself permission to not ask questions right now. Another stunning piece of feedback I was given was “It is never too late to ask a great question Dulcie…but it can be too early.” This helps me park a thought that I am excited to share! That way, if it is too early for the coachee or my instincts are wrong – no harm done. If it’s not – great. It will still be relevant later on. I tend to just jot a key word down on my notes so I don’t forget it and then straight back with my full attention and listening.
I had a great result with this technique recently. I asked my client to think about the question I had “saved” as homework between our sessions. It gave us some real breakthrough thinking. But I suspect, had I asked it in the moment it would not have had that power…
It’s never too late to ask a great question and your mind might be desperate to refine it and make it brilliant. But if in doubt…listen for a bit longer first.