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Imposture Syndrome and Cognitive and Behavioral Coaching

Imposture Syndrome and Cognitive and Behavioral Coaching

Who as leadership coach hasn’t heard these phrases from their coachees: “I can’t impose my point of view”, “I feel like I’m not being listened to”, “I don’t feel legitimate”, “I don’t think I belong”? These phrases express a well-known feeling that is commonly called imposture complex or syndrome. Once present, it can cause a drop in performance and motivation, damaging to the person and his or her professional environment.

In the healthcare world, this complex or syndrome can affect people who take on a leadership position through an internal promotion in a pharmaceutical laboratory or medical equipment industry, others who see their scope of responsibility broaden in a start-up by going from a single contributor to a functional or team leader, or a person appointed as executive or general manager of a group of physicians or a healthcare institution.

Occasionally experiencing this type of feeling is not necessarily bad for oneself and can sometimes be an opportunity to revisit one’s position as a leader to be more efficient. The problem arises when this thought is recurrent and instead of leading to reflection followed by positive action, it gives way to rumination and defeatism or loss of confidence. The person’s performance is then hindered by the worry of not being up to the task of leading those who have sometimes been his or her colleagues in an organization, regardless of its size, or the impression of not being legitimate with regard to people who are not directly under his or her authority.

How can individual coaching of a leader through the cognitive and behavioral approach be an effective antidote to the impostor complex?

  • It is highly solution-oriented, because instead of focusing on the root causes of problems, it focuses on helping the coachee to put in place a clear action plan supported by concrete objectives.
  • Thanks to a very structured methodology of the analysis of the request formulated by the leader, it will allow to understand which are the unrealistic beliefs, i.e., things that the person holds for true, which will prove to be limiting in the exercise of its management. The coach’s work will consist in identifying non-helpful automatic thoughts generated by cognitive biases, sort of bugs in the reasoning, linked to counter-productive beliefs and which will engage the leade in a vicious circle (1).
  • Once these non-helpful beliefs are known, cognitive and behavioral coaching will allow the co-construction of an action plan for the coachee, broken down into general objectives coupled with specific objectives while working in parallel on the psychological level. It is first of all for the leader to come to peace with unrealistic beliefs and then to make them more flexible, i.e., to replace them with alternative, more supportive beliefs. The person will free themselves from their chains or psychological brakes and will be able to accept that they do not always succeed perfectly and realize that they are no less legitimate than others in their organization.
  • Because of its format, cognitive and behavioral coaching favors the creation of a space of trust and dialogue that can be modulated according to the progress made by the person towards his or her goals; it generally takes place over a period of 4 to 6 months through 6 to 10 sessions of 1 1/2 to 2 hours, spaced out over a period of about 3 weeks.

Finally what also contributes to the power and effectiveness of the cognitive and behavioral approach, in addition to the elements described above, is the ease with which tools can be integrated into this structured and structuring approach to work, according to the needs of the coachee, on communication, stress management or gaining self-confidence, whether through role-playing or visualization techniques, by projecting the coachee into the future, for example Once at peace with their counterproductive thoughts the leader will demystify their relational complex with others; thus, they will regain their ability to make and explain their decisions and to implement effective action plans.

Cognitive and behavioral coaching is very effective in alleviating the impostor complex or syndrome. Beyond the managerial functions taken as examples in the world of health care to illustrate this article, it can affect people in upward mobility in all sectors of activity.

For more information please contact Pascal Labarrère – President of PLAB-Edu and Partner Healthcare Shapers.


(1) For example, a leader with a “requirement bias” may be paralyzed by the idea of launching an initiative for which he or she is afraid of not getting everyone’s support. Another person who suffers from a “fundamental attribution bias” may feel inferior in strategic planning to more senior colleagues in the company, or to physicians in a health care organization, by feeling less competent or legitimate than them.

Autoren des Beitrags

Pascal Labarrère

Pascal Labarrère has more than 35 years experience in the healthcare industry and focusses on Executive Coaching.

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