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Imposter Syndrome in Leadership Transitions: Insights from Executive Coaching


Leadership transitions are complex. They often bring feelings of imposter syndrome. This is when leaders doubt their abilities when stepping into new roles or promotions. Left unchecked, imposter syndrome can cause new leaders to derail. Executive coaching can play a critical role in a leadership transition or onboarding program. In this blog, I will help you understand and manage such feelings based on 25 years of experience as an executive coach

Decoding Imposter Syndrome During Leadership Transitions

What is it?

Imposter Syndrome refers to feeling less competent than others believe you are. Even successful people can fear being exposed as a "fraud." This fear is common during leadership transitions. People may believe their success is due to luck, not skill. This can intensify when taking on greater responsibilities. As an executive coach, I've seen imposter syndrome in both men and women. The good news? It can be managed with a few specific steps we'll discuss below.

How does it show up during leadership transitions?

Imposter syndrome takes many forms. Leaders may hesitate to act decisively, fearing judgment. They may try to be perfect, working long hours. They may avoid new challenges fearing failure. These feelings may increase as their responsibilities grow. Here, executive coaching can aid. It helps leaders understand imposter syndrome, and cultivate confidence and assertiveness.

The Root Causes

Facing new challenges 

Imposter syndrome often surfaces during leadership transitions due to new challenges. A senior role brings broader and complex tasks. More stakeholders expect prompt results. Feeling unprepared for these duties can trigger self-doubt. Uncertain about task prioritization also increases imposter feelings. Executive coaching comes to the rescue here. It helps leaders break down their tasks, prioritize suitably, and instill confidence.

Handling high expectations

High expectations contribute to imposter syndrome stigmatization. When stepping up to a senior role, leaders feel the need to prove their worth. Pleasing colleagues, superiors, and subordinates who have their success vision is overwhelming. This can intensify failure fears. Leaders may then question their competencies. That's where executive coaching assists. It helps leaders understand these stresses, set realistic goals, and establish their success criteria.

Unclear roles and authority

Ambiguity regarding one's new role and its authority contributes to imposter syndrome. New leaders may feel uncertain about their decision-making limits. This can reduce confidence and feed into the imposter phenomenon. Executive coaching helps define clear roles and negotiation strategies as part of a leadership transition plan

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: An Executive Coaching Approach

Changing mindsets

To defeat imposter syndrome, leaders need to change their mindset. Executive coaching aids in recognizing and reframing self-doubting thoughts. Executive coaches often help leaders learn how to challenge the validity of these thoughts and identify self-empowering language to neutralize the negative self-talk. Leaders learn to see occasional doubt as part of growth. This cognitive restructuring transforms impostor feelings into motivation and passion.

Defining your role & authority

Executive coaching offers practical strategies for handling imposter syndrome. One such strategy is to clarify the leader's role and their authority. By understanding their scope of responsibility, leaders can act decisively and confidently. This not only combats imposter feelings but also enhances effectiveness.

Establishing a support network

A sturdy support network is vital in overcoming imposter syndrome during a leadership transition. Coaches stress building relationships with mentors and peers - inside and outside the organization . A strong network can offer performance insights, celebrate successes, and recommend improvements. It validates a leader's place and authority, creating trust and confidence.


Imposter syndrome is common in leadership transitions. But it's not insurmountable. With the right guidance and support, leaders can manage self-doubt and thrive. As they say, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Executive coaching can help you beat imposter syndrome and excel in your roles.

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Dr. Kevin Nourse is an executive coach helping newly hired or promoted executives successfully navigate a transition and thrive. He founded Nourse Leadership Strategies, an executive and team coaching firm based in Palm Springs, CA. Kevin works with leaders and teams throughout California including Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Irvine, Orange County, San Diego, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Sacramento.  Contact him at 442.420.5578 (call or text) or kevin@nourseleadership.com

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