Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Having the right Mentor may be the key to overcoming imposter syndrome and building confidence.

Bill Wood

2/28/20234 min read

We've all been there at one time or another. Maybe it was the first time you made the varsity team in High School, the first "real" job after school or the first promotion into management; if not one of these, I'm guessing you've probably experienced the feeling in some other way. Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where you doubt your own abilities, skills and accomplishments, despite having plentiful evidence of your success. In the workplace, it often manifests as a feeling of inadequacy or an internal belief that you are a fraud don't deserve your role or position. Imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of their background or level of success. It is particularly common among high-achieving individuals, who may feel like they do not belong amongst their peers or are new to a particular role or environment, such as students, interns, or new employees. This feeling can be paralyzing and can prevent you from achieving your full potential.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome imposter syndrome and having a good Mentor is one of the best tools to combat it. A Mentor is someone who can offer guidance, support, and encouragement as you navigate your professional or personal journey. Mentors are often experienced individuals who have faced similar challenges to the ones you are facing and can provide valuable insights and advice. They can also serve as a sounding board for your ideas and offer constructive feedback.

Here are a few ways that a Mentor can help you build your self-confidence and overcome this challenge:

A Different Perspective & Self-Reflection

When you are experiencing imposter syndrome, it can be challenging to see yourself and the situation objectively, but a Mentor can offer an impartial review of both. This different perspective may be difficult to accept, but the level of experience the Mentor has in your field or in similar roles lends credibility to their observations. It is also likely that they have faced similar internal feelings at some point in their career and can offer advice based upon how they overcame their own challenges. Most importantly, they can help guide your self-reflection, which will enable you to identify strengths and weaknesses, build stronger self-awareness and develop plans to address any areas of weakness. In a mentoring session last year, I was working with someone who had more than a decade of experience as a Manager in the technology department of a Fortune 500 company. He had recently been promoted to a Director role and was experiencing imposter syndrome as he moved from someone who was executing strategy vs. someone who was designing it. He felt out of place in staff meetings with the other Directors and was starting to regret his promotion. As we talked, I shifted the focus to the work he had been doing in his past role and was able to ascertain that he had been acting more like a Director than a Manager in his last role. I shared this belief (and my rationale for it) at the end of a session and asked him to think through it before our next meeting, but received an email within a few days that he was starting to feel more comfortable in his position and expressing appreciation for my viewpoint.


Sometimes the best medicine for imposter syndrome is reassurance or an expression of confidence from a supervisor or Mentor. When you are experiencing the fear that you are not good enough or that you are not qualified to do a particular task, a Mentor can help alleviate these fears by reminding you of your strengths and accomplishments. They can help you see that you have the skills and abilities to succeed and can offer guidance on how to use these strengths to achieve your goals. Many years ago, I had promoted an analyst to her first managerial role. As an analyst, she had held responsibility for supervising the work of 3-4 people and managing the project they were focused on. In her new Manager role, she retained those responsibilities, but also had two of her former peers reporting into her, as well. She was very confident in managing her former team, but was struggling with the former peers. In a weekly status meeting, we were discussing a project that managed by one of those former peers that was off-track and it came to light that she was not managing them in the same way that she had managed her team in the past--basically deferring to them because of their past relationships. We talked through what had made her successful in managing her smaller team and I reinforced how good she was at these best practices she had deployed there. It took some time and many more sessions with my coaching and reassurance, but she was able to shift to using her proven management style with the former peers and excelled in her new role.


One way to deal with imposter syndrome is to set success criteria or goals in your new role for you to measure yourself against (e.g., if I can deliver this sales quota, then I must belong here). Achieving these targets can boost your self-confidence and make you feel more comfortable about your position or role. On the other hand, if you don't hold yourself accountable to monitoring and measuring against these targets, it might have the opposite effect. By sharing (er even building) these targets with a Mentor, it is much more likely that you will stick to the monitoring and measuring process. As you work towards these targets, your Mentor can provide support and guidance when needed to overcome challenges and help to celebrate your success as you progress toward and achieve these goals. In my own case, I was in a new role at a new company, which was just starting a turn-around. The other areas of the business were dissatisfied with the performance of the business unit I was taking over and there were issues at every turn. For the first time in my career, I worried that I had taken on more than I could handle, but after a few calls with a former supervisor, who now became a de facto Mentor, I recognized how the skills I had used successfully in the past fit to address the current role and I regained my confidence.

A mentoring relationship is not a cure for imposter syndrome, but it can certainly provide assistance in overcoming it. Mentors can provide reassurance, a different perspective, additional accountability and guidance on self-reflection, to help you build confidence and achieve your full potential. If you are struggling with imposter syndrome, consider finding a Mentor who can offer guidance and support as you navigate your personal and professional journey.