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The Coaching Dept. Blog

Tame the Imposter! (Or Let it Go Forever)

During a recent Extraordinary Leader Coaching Gym, the topic of imposter syndrome emerged. After a brief discussion and an informal survey of our small group, it was revealed that every one of us has at some time in their life experienced that nagging feeling of being a fraud. You know, the inner voice that tells us that our accomplishments were a result of good luck, that we are incompetent, and that at some point we will be found out. Uggggh… what a feeling!

I remember my first CMAA Conference in 2007. I had joined Kevin as one of the CMAA Coaches and was booked for several live coaching sessions. I had a lot of reasons on paper and via experience that I was qualified, and yet, for several days leading up to and during Conference, I was convinced that I didn’t deserve to be coaching club management professionals. This was not just a brief dose of situational fear, it was full-on imposter syndrome. It was unlike anything I had experienced before. It escalated into a culmination of questioning everything that I had worked so hard to achieve. Grueling self-abuse. What a low place to find yourself in. I obviously survived it, and it became the perfect opportunity to dive into some deep reflection on how to best handle it, or better yet, how to say goodbye to it.

Over the years I have coached several leaders with similar experiences and imposter-type beliefs. I have realized that there is a big difference between situational fear/anxiety and imposter syndrome. The first is situational based and is usually very short lived. The latter is a core belief about us. It hangs on to us. Both, though, are based on confidence and competence. Both suggest that our confidence reflects our competence. As with both, our competence exceeds our confidence. Both also add in an element of comparison. We compare ourselves and our competence to others as part of a contest. It plays with our mind and messes with our ability to show up at our best.

To be clear, developing confidence in our abilities doesn’t mean we escalate our confidence so high that it outweighs our competence. That is arrogance. I recently read Adam Grant’s book Think Again. When our confidence exceeds competence, he calls it the “armchair quarterback syndrome.” It’s the name given to the football fans who are convinced they know more than the coaches on the sidelines. There’s an awesome cartoon he displays in his book to illustrate the point. It’s a picture of a couple conversing over a glass of wine. One person is clearly talking and the other one is listening (with a very sober look on their face.) The caption reads “Let me interrupt your expertise with my confidence.” You get the idea. That’s not the confidence we are aiming for!

Whether you are occasionally caught in a brief period of situational self-doubt, or you are badgered regularly with a lack of confidence that inhibits your performance, these coaching topics/questions can encourage self-awareness and provide you with some strategies to guide you to overcoming the imposter:

  1. Realize That You Are NOT Alone
    • Everyone has experienced low competence and low confidence at some point in their life. If they tell you they haven’t, they may be an armchair quarterback. Full stop.
  2. Awareness and Self-Reflection
    • What specific situations or areas of your life trigger feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt?
    • What is the impact on your personal and professional life?
    • What evidence do you have that supports your lack of confidence?
    • Reframe your perspective. What evidence suggests that you are competent? Explore your achievements. What message do they tell you?
  3. Create a Vision of the Ideal
    • How would you think, feel, and act if you felt competent and confident?
    • What would your life be like?
  4. Identifying Negative Self-Talk and Change Limiting Beliefs
    • What are some common negative thoughts or beliefs you have about yourself and your abilities?
    • What impact do these beliefs have on your confidence?
    • What are some beliefs that would empower you versus limit you? Start by employing these.
  5. Attract What You Want vs. What you Don’t Want
    • Track your wins daily and weekly. What successes did you have? What can you celebrate?
    • Remember what Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” Limit the times when you are comparing yourself to others. You know when you are doing it.  Be very cautious and careful with social media. Those messages are powerful.
  6. Get Support
    • Find a mentor and/or enlist the help of a coach. We are here to support your success.

And finally, please recognize that all self-development is a journey. Let’s embark on the voyage of what author Brené Brown calls “grounded confidence.” We welcome our next conversation with you.

Kevin MacDonald and Shelley MacDougall are the coaches for CMAA. To contact them call 1-866-822-3481 toll free or e-mail or

About the author

Shelley MacDougall

Shelley MacDougall is dedicated to creating leaders in life! Whether she is coaching one on one, facilitating learning for groups, or delivering keynote presentations, Shelley’s dynamic style and compassion for people are undeniable.

Since 2006, Shelley has been coaching CMAA/CMAC and club industry professionals, supporting them to reach new heights in their careers and in life. Along with her business partner, Kevin MacDonald, they have coached and worked with thousands of industry professionals in their combined 30 years of coaching. Their popular program, The Extraordinary Leader Program, continues to develop leaders at all levels of private clubs and beyond.

After obtaining her business degree at The Ohio State University, Shelley has invested the past 30 years in training and leading others. Fifteen years of experience inside the private club and hospitality industries equipped her to venture out to connect with organizations from a different perspective. As a coach, Shelley’s passion is developing leaders and creating cultures of elevated service. You can find more about her work at

Shelley believes that “Success is on the Inside”! She is committed to Elevating Lives and Organizations… Every Connection, Every Conversation, Every Day.

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