Imposter syndrome: Take back your power and ask for manager support


“Imposter syndrome” is real, but it has two components: the feelings of inadequacy that can come from one’s own psychological makeup and the feelings of inadequacy that can develop as a response to environmental factors. In the workplace, external environmental factors carry great weight because employees learn to look to those with more power and influence to determine what they need to do to get ahead. If the external environment is one in which decision-making that affects employees seems cavalier or inequitable, then employees feel unsafe because they cannot figure out what they should do to get ahead. A similar thing happens when only certain people (let’s call them “insiders”) get the opportunities, even if other employees are as well prepared. In these two simple (and common) examples, even an employee with a positive sense of self will start to look inward and wonder, “Is there something wrong with me?” But I encourage anyone who starts to feel this kind of self-doubt to do two things:

Remember your strengths, play to your strengths, and walk your own journey

What can help overcome this tendency to compare is remembering that each human is unique and has advantages and disadvantages. Each person has to walk their own journey; when you compare, you give your power away. It is better to:

  • Set your vision for what you desire and plan to achieve it.
  • Keep it to yourself but work towards it every day.
  • Celebrate your small wins yourself (and with others who will not discourage your dreams).
  • Step out and share your progress when you have something to share and want others to see your progress.

And then repeat this all over again for your next goal. The bottom line – – – don’t compare yourself with others. Focus on your own path.

Ask your manager for help

Managers cannot change your feelings and emotions, and you should not expect them to. However, managers must create an equitable environment in which all employees can grow. Your manager should:

  • Avoid favoritism.
  • Make fair pay, promotion, and career visibility decisions.
  • Ensure that everyone (including you!) who is a logical candidate is considered for opportunities.
  • Allocate their resources and time fairly so that all team members get the attention they need.
  • Provide stretch assignments and coaching to help you to tackle new opportunities.

If you do what you can to chart your course (and manage your emotions) and your manager does her part to support you as they should, you will eventually find what works for you and what does not. Then, imposter syndrome will no longer be part of your vocabulary!