It can be difficult sometimes to comprehend that those who are in positions of power suffer from self-doubt.
We tend to see our coaches as strong, self-assured and confident people. Most are ex-players who achieved some sort of success during their playing careers. And though we may question their competencies as coaches sometimes, we tend not to question their confidence as people. But the reality is that for a lot of coaches, it couldn’t be further from the truth. They are human after all.
As a Mental and Emotional Performance therapist, I have seen many clients from the worlds of sport, business, and the arts. Leaders, examples, role models – landmarks in terms of status and /or success. Yet, self-doubt is prevalent. Self-sabotage is common. It seems the further we climb the rungs of responsibility, the more the belief that we are inadequate or undeserving of our role/or success grows. The saturating feeling is that it’s only a matter of time before others find out and expose us as frauds. The clinical name for this is Imposter Syndrome, and it is a persistent problem among today’s coaches.
Instead of feeling the joy and accomplishment that they expect when reaching the top, many coaches feel lonely, anxious, and vulnerable. There is the constant internal questioning of Why would they listen to me? What if they find out I don’t have the right experience for this role? What if my visions and methods don’t work out? You might say that this is nothing new, that we all ask ourselves these questions, and you’d be right – almost everyone experiences Imposter Syndrome at some point – but in roles of leadership it can be extremely destructive.
So what is Imposter Syndrome at its core?
Imposter Syndrome is a fear of rejection. It is my understanding that human beings come onto this planet with two powerful emotional needs: to find connection and avoid rejection.
If you dig deep enough into the emotional problems of almost everyone you can trace their issues back to a lack of fulfilment of those two needs. ‘I’m not good enough, and if I’m not good enough then they will find out and reject me.’ You see, to a certain extent, we still have the mindset of tribal times; it was imperative that we didn’t get rejected by our tribe, as no human could survive in the wilderness alone. Rejection really did mean death, and connection meant survival. That is why the fear of rejection is so deeply rooted and the cause of so many modern day problems.
So why is it extremely destructive for coaches?
Ongoing fear of being exposed is associated with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain and body, and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Feelings of insecurity can cause us to work harder and neglect self-care (eating well, engaging in physical activity, getting enough quality sleep and regular recovery/time off), and turn us towards unhealthy behaviours. Imposter syndrome and the lack of self-confidence it brings with it can also limit our willingness to take risks, to be creative and agile, which are fundamental attributes of a successful coach.
Add to that, Imposter Syndrome (and the high anxiety it can create) can often result in a lack of trust and confidence in others. A huge body of growing evidence shows that this can negatively impact decision making and ethical standards.
When we are within the grips of self-doubt, we not only judge ourselves critically, but are more likely to judge others critically (and less empathetically) which can impact our ability to build strong, healthy and productive relationships – Team culture. One of the key elements of creating a successful, enriching team culture is allowing for an environment that promotes the sharing of vulnerabilities to create trust. However, those who struggle with Imposter Syndrome often feel like they can never really let people know who they are – because in their mind they are a fraud. This can cause others to view them as distant and difficult to trust, which can undermine team spirit.
The mistake of our era is that we demand for evidence before creating belief, when really it should be the other way around. For any new coach, or even an experienced coach trialling a new system or approach, there can be no existing evidence that what you are creating is going to work. Our belief systems, our confidence systems, our self-esteem systems are fundamentally flawed or broken, and our successes are limited. This is because of how we choose to think, and what we choose to believe.
But know that belief is simply a choice of thought. Imposter Syndrome is a choice of thought. We choose negative thoughts like “I don’t have enough experience” but call them ‘observations’ in an attempt to avoid rejection. And when we peel it all away, when we magnify what we are really afraid of, we soon find that the cause of all our anxieties is that we don’t want to feel something – and that something is rejection.
So know that your coach fears rejection, just as much as you. And maybe let them know that they don’t need to.