Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0454, August 3, 2010

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Dear Friends,

I wanted to update you on a change I just made and the reason I missed publishing last week's issue. I drove from California to Madison, WI, arriving last Sunday with my car loaded to the roof. I've been seeking an adventure out of my relatively isolated desert community and came upon an opportunity when I was in Madison in June. I was offered and accepted a temporary four-month position helping the local United Way in their Campaign drive this fall. It's an opportunity to get to know this new community, meet a lot of the business leaders, and see if this is a place to which I might want to permanently relocate. So if you're in Madison or the surrounding area, let me know as it would be great to meet you in person!

One of our readers, Valerie Gillies, shared an interesting response to one of my past articles, Facilitateaphobia that dealt with fear faced by new facilitators. She shared information around something called the "Imposter Syndrome" put forward by an educational author Stephen Brookfield, in his book, "Skillful Teacher," where he made observations about his doctoral students. I think there are some significant messages here to explore for anyone in a position of leadership. Thank you Valerie for your input and for inspiring this week's article, Do You Have Imposter Syndrome? As always, I look forward to your comments.

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We hope our work continues to bring inspiration to your world. Thank you for being a part of our growing community. Please continue to send the wonderful feedback.


Steve Davis


facilitator questions

conflict resolution

The Point

Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?
Helping high achievers get past feelings self-doubt.

Self Management Skill

As it turns out, “The Imposter Syndrome” is a common affliction among successful people such as doctors, lawyers, actors, teachers, politicians; and yes, even facilitators, trainers, group leaders, and their participants. Imposter syndrome is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of evidence to the contrary. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence, and shows up in any of the following three ways:

  • Feeling like a fake. A belief that one does not deserve his or her success or professional position and that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This goes together with a fear of being, “found out”, discovered or “unmasked.” People who feel this way would identify with statements such as: “I can give the impression that I am more competent than I really am.” “I am often afraid that others will discover how much knowledge I really lack”.

  • Attributing success to luck. Another aspect of the imposter syndrome is the tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not to your own internal abilities. Someone with such feeling would refer to an achievement by saying, “I just got lucky this time” “it was a fluke” and with fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.

  • Discounting Success. The third aspect is a tendency to downplay success and discount it. One with such feelings would discount an achievement by saying, “it is not a big deal,” “it was not important.” One example of this is discounting the fact that they made it here, which is really a big success. Or saying, “I did well because it is an easy class etc.” Having a hard time accepting compliments.

Behaviors and Beliefs that perpetuate imposter feelings. There are several behaviors found to perpetuate imposter feelings.

  • Diligence: Gifted people often work hard in order to prevent people from discovering that they are an “imposter”. This hard work often leads to more praise and success, which perpetuates the imposter feelings and fears of being “found out.”

  • Feeling of being phony: A person with imposter feelings often attempt to give supervisors and professors the answers that they believe they want, which often leads to an increase in feeling like they are “being a fake.”

  • Use of charm: Connected to this, gifted people often use their intuitive perceptiveness and charm to gain approval and praise from supervisors and seek out relationships with supervisors in order to help them increase their abilities intellectually and creatively. However, when the supervisor gives them praise or recognition, they feel that this praise is based on their charm and not on ability.

  • Avoiding display of confidence: Another way that people can perpetuate imposter feelings is to avoid showing any confidence in their abilities. A person dealing with imposter feelings may believe that if they actually believe in their intelligence and abilities they may be rejected by others. Therefore, they may convince themselves that they are not intelligence or do not deserve success to avoid this.


Dealing with Imposter Feelings

  • Support: being able to discuss those feelings with others in order to understand that you are not alone and to get a reality check.

  • Identify those feelings: be aware when you engage in thoughts and feelings of imposter. Awareness is the first step to change and it is not obvious since many times we are not aware of our automatic thoughts.

  • Automatic Thoughts: Automatic thoughts can be defined as underlying, unquestioned thoughts, which affect how you perceive an event or situation. These thoughts are often so automatic that they occur very fast and you may not even notice them…..but they are affecting your perception An example of an automatic thought related to imposter syndrome would be “I am not smart enough.” This underlying thought may lead to thinking such things as: “Everyone else is smarter than me” or “admissions made a mistake.”

  • Do your own reality check: Question these automatic imposter thoughts and feelings and try to come up with more balanced thoughts.

  • Understanding the difference between feelings and reality: Some people tend to believe that if they feel something strongly it must be right. “If I feel so stupid, it must be that I am stupid.” When you catch yourself thinking in this way change it to a coping statement of “the fact that I feel stupid does not mean that I really am.”

Add Your Comments


Do you have Imposter Syndrome? If so, what practices above are you willing to act on this week?   Please click on the Add Your Comments link above and share your thoughts, stories, and experiences around this topic. I'd love to hear from you!

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