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The Impostor Syndrome - I'm Not Worthy

Updated: May 15, 2020

During the last 25 years, I’ve had many clients who have had delusions that they are not good enough for their positions or the success they’ve achieved. Some consider themselves just lucky because they were born into greatness or just knew the right person. Some realize that their climb to success was not "hard enough". Some believe they are incompetent for the position.

Anyone who has debilitating self-doubt probably has some form of Impostor Syndrome. There is an old saying “Every executive is deathly afraid of being discovered as an incompetent imposter.” It appears to be anonymous probably because the executive who thought of it didn’t want to be discovered. I’ve revised the saying to, “Every competent leader is an incompetent imposter.” Meaning that great leaders are thrust into new situations for which they have never experienced before, and without this foreknowledge, they are by definition incompetent, and they are an imposter because as a leader they want to convey confidence. Even Alexander the Great, as told by Brian Tracy, is said to have announced the white lie, “I have a plan” which gave confidence to the troops, even at the overwhelming sight of the massive armies of the enemy led by King Darius. When asked about his Plan, he announced the Plan was to “Kill Darius,” and they then developed a strategy to do that.

The Impostor Syndrome is the forerunner of fear of being caught, which leads to procrastination, lack of vision, neglected macro-management, overindulgent micro-management, poorly engaged employees, and in general stress and a work environment that is not fun. All of my Three Leadership Principles are violated.

Robert Townsend wrote in his book Up the Organization that, when he was the CEO of Avis during their “Avis is only number 2. So we try harder” days, he had to make a thousand decisions every day, and he knew that two-thirds of those decisions would turn out to be wrong, but beforehand he didn’t know which ones would turn out to be wrong. He found out it was better to make a wrong decision than to make no decision. Lesson learned: be comfortable with your incompetence.

Until you figure out the settings, it is okay to burn your toast and scrape it.

Don’t worry, be happy.

- Doug


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