10 tips for helping newly appointed leaders overcome imposter syndrome

As executive coaches we regularly support senior executives who have recently been appointed into new roles. It is usually a step up within an organisation, or heading up a critical new programme, or they may have joined a new organisation.

A recurring theme that presents itself in these coaching conversations is the imposter syndrome. So in this article I will share some tips around how to coach someone with imposter syndrome or you may want to use these tips for some self-coaching if relevant for yourself.

Imposter syndrome at work

The imposter syndrome often presents itself as the leader share their nagging feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. They may feel that their peers appear so much more confident, comfortable and unflustered in the discussions taking place in the meetings. Their confidence is low and they are anxious.

Prior to the step-up they are likely to come from a role that they understood and mastered with self-assured aplomb for a number of years. But the complexity of their new wider remit can feel overwhelming, often with new functional disciplines they have not been responsible for before and have little insight into. The expectations on them to make good quality decisions may feel daunting, and they may now also need to provide leadership to a management team, which were until recently their peers.

When imposter syndrome sets in critical attributes can rear their ugly head:

  1. They believe that people around them have an exaggerated view of their abilities.
  2. They fear being exposed as frauds.
  3. They continuously downplay their achievements.
  4. They see a minor stumble as evidence of their incompetence.

Instead of celebrating their bravery for taking on new challenges and enjoying the opportunity to make a bigger difference, they risk sabotaging themselves, obsessing around minor mistakes, seeking unrealistic levels of perfection and working twice as hard to prove themselves, rather than focusing on stepping up to lead the team.

How to coach imposter syndrome

Here are 10 tips on how to support a leader with imposter syndrome, and you can also use many of these tips to coach yourself.

  • Validate Their Feelings:

Start by acknowledging that imposter syndrome is a common experience, especially for those stepping into new leadership roles. Let them know that their feelings are legitimate and that many successful leaders have faced similar challenges.

  • Identify Systemic Issues:

Explore with the leader whether this is a systemic issue? The leader’s feeling of being an imposter may be part a wider problem e.g. an insidious organisational culture, a hierarchical mindset, a lack of diversity, bullying behaviours etc. This will change how they will have to deal with the issue on a personal level and as a leader.

  • Define Leadership Identity:

Encourage new leaders to define their leadership identity and values. Understanding who they want to be as a leader can provide a solid foundation for building confidence. Recognise that their new more senior role doesn’t mean they need to understand the details at the operational level they did before, but to lead a group of managers who operate at that detail level.

  • Set Realistic Expectations:

Help them establish realistic expectations for their new role. Nobody expects them to know everything from day one, and it’s okay to ask questions and seek help when needed. Actually, listening is a much more useful skills than talking for a leader.

  • Emphasise Learning and Growth:

Shift the focus from perfection to continuous learning and growth. Help them recognise that leadership is a journey, and each experience, even failures, contributes to their development. Leaders who learn from their failures often emerge stronger and more resilient. Imposter syndrome as a normal part of personal and professional development. Emphasise that these feelings can motivate them to strive for excellence and learn from their experiences.

  • Build a Support System:

Assist them in building a support system, which may include mentors, colleagues, or a coach. Having someone to turn to for guidance and perspective can be invaluable.

  • Create a Plan:

Help them break down their responsibilities into manageable tasks and create a plan. This approach can prevent feeling overwhelmed, pace themselves better and create a sense of accomplishment with each completed task.

  • Keep a Positive Mindset:

Use positive psychology tools to help them to recognise and challenge negative self-talk. Encourage them to replace self-criticism with self-affirming thoughts and statements. Instead of “this job is too big” help them to reframe it to “My boss gave me this job and believes in me” or “this is a great learning opportunity for me.”

  • Celebrate Wins:

Encourage them to maintain a record of their progress, their achievements and positive feedback they receive. A “success journal” can serve as a tangible reminder of their capabilities. Encourage them to remember how far they have come already, and how they have successfully overcome challenges in the past. Promote self-reflection as a tool for personal and professional development.

  • Develop Coping Mechanisms:

The leader needs to respond in a rational manner when some of the negative imposter thoughts rear their ugly head. We must help them build a habit of taking a deep breath and a step back, so they think rationally and don’t respond emotionally.


In summary, coaching newly appointed leaders to overcome imposter syndrome involves a combination of validating their feelings, setting realistic expectations, emphasising growth, and building a positive mindset. With the right support, mindset and tools, these leaders can not only conquer their self-doubt but also thrive in their new roles and make strong contributions to their organisations.

Back to News & Blogs Overview