Was there a time in your life when you doubted your coaching skills? An instance where you questioned if you had enough training or experience to coach others? You may have been experiencing imposter syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome is a common challenge among some coaches, and it manifests as a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud despite training and even evident success. This self-doubt can hinder professional growth and dampen confidence, impacting your coaching effectiveness.

That’s why addressing these feelings of inadequacy is essential not only for your personal well-being but also because it is important for you to be able to coach effectively.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome happens when a person doubts their skills and accomplishments and has a concern that they will misjudge a situation, make a mistake, or do harm — consequently, exposing themselves as a person who had no business being in the role in the first place — incompetent to do the job and hence, an imposter.

This issue comes up a lot among coaches of any age or experience level. Although some are confident right out of the gates, new leaders, internal coaches, external coaches, managers, and all types of coaches may sometimes struggle with the question: Who am I to coach?

Impact of Imposter Syndrome on Coaches

When coaches are in constant fear of being exposed as inadequate, it leads to a reluctance to take on challenging opportunities or charge what they’re worth. In addition, they feel uneasy about embracing the age-old imposter’s mantra: “Fake it till you make it” because faking It just confirms that they are incompetent yet hiding it, casualties and consequences be damned!

This hesitancy can stifle personal and professional growth, limiting the coach’s potential impact on both individual clients and broader organizational dynamics. The imposter syndrome’s pervasive influence might also foster a disconnect between the coach’s outward success and their internal sense of accomplishment.

Meanwhile, in a coaching relationship, imposter syndrome can impede the establishment of trust and hinder open communication. Clients may sense the coach’s internal struggle, affecting the effectiveness of the coaching process. Coaches with imposter syndrome may struggle to challenge their clients, fearing they lack the credibility or competence to coach effectively.

Recognizing Imposter Syndrome in Yourself

As a coach, recognizing imposter syndrome involves being attuned to specific signs. To name a few, it can manifest in the form of: 

  • Persistent self-doubt despite success
  • A constant fear of being exposed as a fake
  • Downplaying achievements 
  • Hesitancy to take on challenging roles
  • Resistance to charging what you’re worth

On the other hand, perhaps the uneasy, menacing whisper of insecurity comes from the lack of training to coach other people! Too many coaches have no training such that they fail to see the true essence and meaning of being a coach. 

But besides that fact, I think the presence of imposter syndrome can also be a good signal of true coaching virtues: humility, honesty, willingness to learn, and courage to grow.

In my practice, I notice that the one who wants coaching on overcoming imposter syndrome often has the true heart of a coach! This is always inspiring for me because I get to coach a person through the process of self-discovery and exploration of ideas and strategies that turn out to be immensely effective for themselves and those around them.

Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Coaches can overcome imposter syndrome in many ways, and it all begins with cultivating four things: a professional coaching certification, a growth mindset, a support network, and a celebration of achievements.

Professional Coaching Certification

As I mentioned above, imposter syndrome can sometimes manifest when coaches feel they don’t have adequate training to execute the role. If they don’t have professional coaching certification, they will often doubt their legitimacy and effectiveness in guiding clients to achieve their goals. 

This lack of formal recognition by way of a certificate can exacerbate feelings of being a ‘fraud,’. These folks know that despite their practical experience in other fields and love for the idea of coaching, it is simply not enough. Professional coach training plays a crucial role in overcoming these doubts. It provides not only a solid foundation of coaching principles and methodologies but also instills confidence through validated skills and internationally recognized credentials, such as the globally recognized ICF Credentials

This formal education ensures coaches are well-equipped to handle various coaching scenarios, boosting their self-assurance. Even better, the rigorous assessment and feedback process inherent in certification programs serves as an external validation of their capabilities, helping to dispel the internal narrative that underpins imposter syndrome. 

Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the belief that one’s abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed and improved over time through dedication, hard work, and learning. Individuals with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities for growth and view failures as valuable learning experiences. 

Coaches can dive deeper into utilizing this mindset by recognizing that our skills and capabilities are not fixed traits but can be developed through effort and learning. When we foster a culture of continuous improvement instead of allowing ourselves to wallow in the thought that we are not good enough to coach – we celebrate effort, make space for constructive feedback, and create an environment that encourages personal and professional development. 

Challenging negative self-talk helps shift our focus from perceived shortcomings to a positive, forward-thinking approach. And when we constantly emphasize the value of learning from setbacks and encourage risk-taking – we empower ourselves to look past moments of doubt. Instead, we learn to look at challenges as opportunities for growth rather than threats to competence. 

Support Network 

We should also have a strong support network to further overcome imposter syndrome by openly discussing our feelings of self-doubt. Sharing experiences and vulnerabilities within our network of trusted colleagues, mentors, or friends can provide us with valuable perspectives, reassurance, and guidance. 

By seeking feedback and insights from those who understand the challenges of our profession, coaches gain a more realistic view of our abilities and achievements. At the end of the day, you would be surprised that the mere act of connecting with others helps overcome feelings of isolation and makes us realize that imposter syndrome is a common experience shared by many accomplished individuals.

Celebrate Achievements 

And, of course, what other way to combat self-doubt than by reminding ourselves of what we’ve achieved in our careers? Taking time to reflect on and appreciate personal successes, no matter how small, helps build a positive self-image. 

By consciously recognizing our capabilities and attributing accomplishments to our skills and efforts, we can counteract the tendency to attribute success solely to external factors or luck. This intentional focus on positive outcomes contributes to a more balanced perspective, diminishing the impact of imposter syndrome and reinforcing a genuine sense of accomplishment and capability.

As more coaches become attuned to their capabilities and value, we proactively address and overcome imposter feelings — paving the way for confident and impactful coaching.

Implementing Changes in Your Coaching Style

As mentioned earlier, imposter syndrome can surface even in our coaching styles. It can foster self-doubt, causing us to feel like we don’t deserve our coaching role. That’s why an ideal way to overcome it is to incorporate strategies that affirm our identity through our coaching style. Here are a few practical steps you can integrate: 

Acknowledgment and Acceptance

Recognize and acknowledge that imposter syndrome is a common phenomenon experienced by many early career professionals, including coaches. Accept that it is okay to have doubts, but it doesn’t define your competence.

Identify Triggers

Identify specific situations or thoughts that trigger imposter feelings. Understanding your triggers allows you to address them more effectively and develop coping mechanisms.

Challenge Negative Thoughts 

Actively challenge and reframe negative thoughts. When self-doubt arises, ask yourself for evidence supporting your competence and achievements. Focus on facts rather than assumptions.

Look Back on Achievements

Regularly celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Keep a record of positive client feedback, successful coaching sessions, or personal accomplishments to remind yourself of your capabilities.

Set Realistic Standards

Avoid setting unrealistic standards for yourself. Recognize that perfection is unattainable and it’s okay to make mistakes. Embrace a growth mindset and view challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement.

Visualize Success

Use visualization techniques to imagine successful coaching interactions. Envision positive outcomes and picture yourself confidently navigating coaching sessions. Visualization can help rewire your mindset.

Lean on Trusted Colleagues 

Surround yourself with a supportive network of colleagues, mentors, and friends. Share your imposter feelings with trusted individuals who can provide encouragement, perspective, and constructive feedback. Connecting with others who understand your profession can be empowering.

Remember, overcoming imposter syndrome is an ongoing process, and different strategies work for different individuals. But that doesn’t change the fact that you need to be patient with yourself. Experiment with these suggestions and incorporate them gradually into your unique coaching practice to build a more resilient and confident coaching style that benefits you and your clients. 

Small i and Capital I Imposters

I do believe that there are ‘imposter coaches’ out there. I also believe that most of these self-proclaimed coaches are not bad people. They just mistakenly believe that “helping people along as they work on their goals” constitutes coaching.

Most of the self-proclaimed know that coaching is not a government-protected profession which means that there is no law against hanging out your shingle (starting your coaching business) without professional coach training. So these folks honestly believe they are doing no harm and it is enough just to make the client happy.

Those folks are what I call ‘small i imposters’. 

ICF professional coaches like myself and others work hard to publish great quality information as a way of supporting others to make well-informed choices.

Then there are what I call “Capital I Imposters.” Capital I Imposters do serious harm to society, and they make the coaching profession look bad. I published a blog about the dark side of the coaching industry, which dives deep into the damage that can be done by the unscrupulous and how to avoid their harm.

You Are Enough

Imposter syndrome happens when we’re not reminded of our capacities and capabilities. It also occurs when we feel that we need to be subject matter experts in order to help our clients. Our role as coaches is not to be a consultant, mentor, therapist, or subject matter expert, but instead to be our clients’ strategic thinking partner and to use the coaching approach to support clients as they discover the answers and strategies that are right for them.

Coaching is not about having experience within a particular field. It’s about having coaching skills and professional coaching training to help our clients find the answers they need.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may have seen this little cheat sheet that I created to easily distinguish coaching from other helpful modalities:

The Trainer: Provides a curriculum with learning objectives.

The Consultant: Assesses your current practices and recommends solutions based on their subject matter expertise.

The Psychotherapist: Holds space for you to discuss your painful memories, trauma, or dysfunction, to to help you heal.

The Mentor: Offers guidance from their own experience.

The Manager: Directs you, reviews or evaluates you, your work, or your situation.

The Internet: Give you tips or tricks.

I notice when I’m coaching an aspiring coach, they ask me questions like: “Corry: If I ask THIS, and then the client says THAT…what should I say?”.

It’s as though they are hoping that I will reveal a secret rule book or process. The thing is, there is no rigid rule book, code, or algorithm when it comes to coaching. But the good news is, there is coach training and mentor coaching to help us hone our coaching competencies and build our confidence.

A coach is such a great ally because they will never tell their clients what is wrong with them or their team or what to do about it. Instead, they will take clients through a thinking process that is future-focused and results-oriented.

Almost everyone who signs up with The Coaching Academy for Leaders books a call with me personally before they commit. It is common for the caller to introduce themselves by saying that they have already been coaching for years in their role at work but would now just like the certification to amplify their credibility.

Inevitably, these fine folks come to see that what they had been doing previously in their role at work was not at all coaching but a blend of well-meaning advising and directing. Following on from there, after their professional coach training, they will often say that now that they actually know what coaching is, they want some more practical experience before they officially proclaim themselves as a coach. Impostor syndrome rears its head!

To this, I respond:
“You are the one who made the investment in your career, you are the one who has shown up to class, week after week. YOU have done the work, and you have honed your skills more than all of the self-proclaimed coaches put together! YOU are the one who should be out there coaching! Go for it! You are ready, and I am right here to support you every step of the way!”

So the next time you experience impostor syndrome, think about what might be causing it. Trust that you’re equipped with the right skills, certification, and professional training to be the coach you were meant to be, and if that is not the case, put these things in place and keep on moving forward!

by: Corry Robertson