This really ought to be called the Imposter Experience, but it has become known as Syndrome in popular descriptions.
Research has shown that it has nothing to do with a specific personality trait or type nor is it a mental health condition. Rather it is a response that people experience to a situation that prompts a response from them. These responses are typically “I am a fraud and I will be found out” or “I am not that intelligent or competent”, or “it’s just luck that I got that job/promotion/success”. So it is understandable that Imposter Experience rears its head more often than not when we are pushed out of our comfort zone, hence the negative thoughts, feelings and fear.
There are some who would say that this has become yet another trend of recent times to describe another psychological phenomenon. However Imposter Syndrome or experience has its roots in the 1970’s from the research of clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Whilst in the early days of recognising the Imposter issue it was suggested that women experienced it more than men, more recent research has shown that both genders experience it almost equally. And I as a coach would endorse this; it is something that I have encountered with both male and female clients.
Interestingly some people who we associate with significant success such as Cheryl Sandberg, Tom Hanks, Maya Angelou and Tommy Cooper have all reported that they have experienced it. Indeed research has further shown that almost 75% of us will encounter it at some point in our lives.
The kinds of behaviours that have been associated with this are people:
A good coach will already have identified how your Imposter Experience is playing out in your life. They will work with you to identify what it is that is shaking your self-confidence; they might have observed an approach or attitude or heard you say:
A coaching Client should be able to talk to their coach about how they are feeling; they should be able to able to talk through this with you and prompt you for evidence of the points above. They will let you know if they have a sense, from what you have said, whether your fears are relevant, justified or irrational. Either way it’s a good place to start work!
When coaching with Clients who are experiencing Imposter Syndrome I get them to consider their accomplishments to date. I call this the “on the hill” process. Instead of looking up the mountain they have to climb, I ask them to consider what they have achieved and their successes. I often get them to pace from a start at point A and then pace forward as they recount them. This physical movement has a number of effects; it stimulates thinking and creates a sense of forward momentum. They then turn around and see how far they have travelled. It is always amazing to watch Clients have that light bulb moment when they see that actually there is a huge amount of evidence that bashes away at the Imposter feelings.
It is also helpful for Clients to be reminded that someone competent and able to make an informed decision about them has believed the Client has what it takes and that they consider that they are deserving of where they are.
When looking at the issue that they might be struggling with it is worth reviewing the resources that they have available to them, where they might invest further in these resources and this might be people, processes or hard tools. Looking at what they can do with these resources can help them to use these in support of countering the Imposter feelings.
As a Coach I will also ask the Client to consider what is the worst thing that can happen if they do/don’t/refrain from doing something. Often it is the fear of the fear and not the reality that is at issue. I strongly believe that it is often the fear of the fear that is holding them back and restricting their movement forward.
I also work with Clients (through exquisite listening) to get them to reflect on the language that they use about themselves. Do they discount their successes, playing down things rather than accepting that they have achieved that success? Sometimes just reframing their language, not only about themselves but about others and circumstances too, can make a huge difference to how they feel about themselves. It’s a learning process and has to be worked on but it is amazing what a difference all of these points can make.
In response to the number of times that I came across Imposter I developed a model that demonstrates the cyclical link to events and responses (which has its roots in Transactional Analysis) but which my Clients have found very useful. The steps they take are:
So it follows that the only thing that is under their control is their response to the events and that by altering the inner script they can make the start to changing the response. It needs practice, and when we are stressed or tired we do tend to revert to behaviour but the ongoing practice can be very powerful.
A copy of my Event Response Cycle can be requested from the Getting in Touch page.
In its simplest form coaching is a conversation, usually between two people, where the Coach works with the Client to support their development. Virtually always this is a process of forward momentum creating a change.
Coaching is not mentoring. Mentors provide information and expertise which is based on their personal experience and tell the Client what they need to do.
Coaches do not tell, they question, listen and seek to understand, reflect back to the Client and they prompt them to consider their options, resources and potential actions and outcomes.
A huge industry has grown up around Coaching with many different practises and theories prompting particular approaches.
I’m a bit of a “keep it simple” fan preferring to use the GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options and Will) during the coaching session and prefer the Solution Focussed approach as a methodology for change.
Whilst I don’t want to write an academic article it is worth clarifying what I mean by Solution Focussed approach. As a Coach I work from the positive premise that the Client is the expert in their own life and work. They are capable of solving their own problems and already have what they need to create their solutions. The role of the Coach is to help them uncover those solutions and construct a plan to achieve the goal or change they want to accomplish. This may mean exploring how they might do things differently, supporting the cessation of things that are counterproductive or engaging creativity to do something completely new.
Once this has occurred the real change takes place by the Client’s actions outside of the coaching session.
So how does this work in the coaching process?
It is my practice to hold an initial telephone briefing prior to starting the coaching. The telephone briefing is valuable in that it enables me to explain what coaching is, what they the Client can expect from me and what they the Client are required to contribute to the process. This conversation enables the Client to assess whether coaching is the right intervention for them. If agreement is reached then the Client will complete a Client Profile which helps me to understand some of the drivers of the Client and to consider whether there are any areas that require further exploration.
At the first coaching session the Client and I will contract for coaching. For this I use a model that I have developed “Contracting for Coaching Wheel” which allows for thorough coverage of all relevant areas prior to the start of the coaching programme. Generally at this stage goals are explored and described
Each coaching session comprises three stages, a review of key points and outcomes from the previous session to include progress on agreed actions, further coaching to develop the process and finally a review of agreed actions.
An Action Plan is agreed and updated to ensure the Client and I are in agreement.
I hope by this stage it has become clear that the process is forward moving. It looks to the future without delving into the past to establish the root cause of the problem, conducting archaeology if you like; knowing how the problem came about does not necessarily provide an answer to fix it. In fact I think if too much time is spent look backward it can inhibit free thinking and creativity and slow up forward movement.
So my goal is to help the Client understand and describe the goal/s they want to achieve and then identify the simplest and easiest route to achieving the outcome that is most satisfying to them.
What kind of example might this work with?
If we take a work place relationship where the Client does not feel that they are getting the best from the interactions, it might be that this is becoming stressful for them; it might be that it is stopping them from achieving a goal or target and so is taking up a great deal of energy.
I would work with the Client to consider and describe what a better and healthier working relationship might look and sound like to others and also feel like to them.
They would also think about the kind of behaviours, thoughts, feelings and actions that might be present in a more constructive relationship.
We would then work together to consider how they might achieve these changes, what resources they might need to support this and what factors would need to exist for them to know that they have made progress toward their goal.
As the coaching journey progresses then I will support the Client to think about what they might need to do to ensure that the change is maintained and how to spot if it needs further effort from the client to be sustainable.
So in conclusion I agree with the view expressed that Solution Focussed Coaching has two main purposes to ‘change the viewing’ and ‘change the doing’ (O’Hanlon & Beadle 1996). It is an approach that sits well with me, fits with my values and always feels constructive. But more importantly it works for my Clients; they feedback to me that it is empowering and creates a healthy level of self-reflection and personal learning.
I am absolutely delighted to be able to confirm that my tender for Executive Coaching with South West Councils has been successful.
South West Councils does a sterling job of providing a huge range of services to local councils across the south west and included in that is a coaching pool of experienced coaches able to offer one to one coaching or larger coaching programmes to its members.
I am already a coach in the coaching pool but look forward to expanding that across a wider group of organisations.
Given that it was my first tender and so a bit of a steep learning curve you can imagine how my pleased I am that it was successful.
If your organisation feels that it could benefit from coaching please do not hesitate to contact me through the getting in touch page and we can have a no obligation chat.
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