Keep Leading!® Podcast Episode 045: Imposter Experience

Keep Leading!® Podcast Episode 045: Imposter Experience

Ijeoma Nwaogu
Educator, Coach and Speaker
Imposter Experience

Episode Summary
Do you find yourself doubting your accomplishments are good enough or even deserved? Do you have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud?” If so, you may be suffering from the imposter experience. I sat down with Ijeoma Nwaogu, Ph.D. to discuss the imposter experience—what it is and why many leaders struggle with it.

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Bio
Ijeoma Nwaogu, Ph.D. is the Founder/CEO of EVERLEAD®, a leadership coaching and consulting firm. A branch of EVERLEAD® is CollegeLifeCoach.info, a personal development platform aimed at equipping college students with insights needed to thrive during their time in college.

Ijeoma has acquired over 15 years of experience in various higher education settings across the United States. Most recently she served as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston and is currently the Associate Director of the Multicultural Center at Rice University.

As a growth coach and speaker, Ijeoma has led countless programs, conference sessions, and trainings across the United States on topics related to personal development and inclusive leadership. Notable works include her involvements as an invited training facilitator at Ivy League institution, University of Pennsylvania, leadership coach for the National Leadershape® Institute, and speaker at the National Conference on Student Leadership.

Ijeoma has spoken to several groups on the topic of overcoming imposter feelings, which is a common reaction experienced by many leaders.

Ijeoma completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from Georgia State University. Ijeoma earned her master’s degree in College Student Affairs Administration and doctoral degree in Counseling, both from the University of Georgia.

Website
https://www.everlead.info/

Other Website
https://www.collegelifecoach.info/

LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/leadership4/

Twitter
https://twitter.com/Nwaogu

Leadership Quote
“Have a healthy disregard for the impossible.” – Leadershape Institute motto

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Transcript

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This podcast is part of the C Suite Radio Network, turning the volume up on business.

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Welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast, the podcast dedicated to promoting leadership development and sharing leadership insights. Here’s your host, The Leadership Excelerator®, Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:
Hello, everyone! Welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast, the podcast dedicated to leadership development and insights. I’m your host, Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®. I work with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact.

Do you find yourself doubting your accomplishments are good enough or even deserved? Do you have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud? If so, you may be suffering from Imposter Syndrome or the Imposter Experience. What is the Imposter Syndrome? And how can you overcome it? If you want the answers to those questions, you’re going to want to tune in to this episode as I speak with Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu to find the answers. Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu who is an adjunct professor at the University of Houston and she is the Associate Director of the Multicultural Center at Rice University. She is an expert at overcoming the Imposter Experience or Imposter Syndrome.

Dr. Nwaogu, welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast.

Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Thank you so much, Eddie. I’m so happy to be here with you.
Eddie Turner:
I’m happy to have you here. You and I first met through our work at ATD, the Association for Talent Development, and then we would see each other at different events and later on I’ve ended up sharing something new now an affiliation through our work at Rice University.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Yeah, absolutely.
Eddie Turner:
So, I’ve gotten to know a little bit more about you and the amazing work that you’re doing. And so, I wanted to have you on the show to talk about something that I am seeing a lot in my work as an executive coach and as a leadership coach, and that is the Imposter Syndrome. Can you tell us what is the Imposter Syndrome?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Yes, the Imposter Syndrome or the Imposter Experience. And some people are moving away from referring to it as a syndrome because it sounds pretty clinical. It’s not a psychological disorder. And so, we all understand it to be a common phenomenon, a common experience that most of us will experience at one point in our lives or another. So, that’s why a lot of people are referring to it as the Imposter Phenomenon or you can refer to it as Imposter Feelings or simply the Imposter Experience, right? So, I believe that the Imposter Syndrome language is still relevant. Many people know it as such but, for me, I go between using the words or the phrase Imposter Feelings, Imposter Experience, and Imposter Phenomenon.

To give you some information about the Imposter Experience, it’s generally known as this persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. So, roughly 80% of all people will encounter these feelings or this experience at one point in their lives or another. And it’s a prison.

Eddie Turner:
80%?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Oh, yes. So, pretty much everyone.
Eddie Turner:
That means all of us will go through this.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Most people, absolutely. And it’s a pretty universal experience. And a lot of people have this inability to really internalize their accomplishments or they may feel like they don’t deserve the success that they’ve achieved or when they look at their success, they dismiss it as they were lucky or good timing was the reason for it or it was the result of deceiving others. And many people feel incompetent or that they don’t belong or you’ll find individuals who dwell on maybe failures or mistakes or even critical feedback that they’ve received from a supervisor and they really take it to heart. I know some individuals who even believe that their charm or their personality got them to a particular leadership position and it wasn’t something that they merited or something that they earned. Rather they’re cool personality, right?

So, when people are experiencing these imposter feelings, they may feel fearful of a situation that they’re in or in a particular context we’re feeling anxiety and nervousness and just generally feeling like a phony, right? And oftentimes, in terms of the behavioral aspect, you’ll see individuals withdraw from group situations or withdraw from a responsibility or isolate themselves or remain silent. If there’s like a group dialogue going on, they don’t want to feel like they’re being found out if they open their mouth and say something. So, they choose silence. And then you’ll find those who are working around the clock waking up early or staying late and overworking themselves because they really want to perfect a particular skill or understand something better if they were presenting in a classroom or presenting in the workplace or whatever the case may be. That’s just an example. So, you’ll find some of these behaviors as well. And the imposter experience, it definitely occurs during various periods throughout one’s lifetime.

Eddie Turner:
So, what is the root of the Imposter Experience?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Oh, just a comment, an experience that we all will encounter at some point in our lives or another. And it can be overcome. I believe Imposter Syndrome or Imposter Experience is rooted in fear. And I believe that fear, it could stay with you for a while, but the key to overcoming the imposter experience is to take positive action. Even if you feel the anxiety, even if you feel the fear, you just take positive action until you become more familiar with a particular setting or you become more comfortable within that setting.
Eddie Turner:
As you say, 80% of us will experience that at one time or another. Now, tell us a little bit more about who it affects in terms of the age.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Well, the key, for me, is context. And if you have entered a novel experience, you could be 60, 50, whatever age, older person who’s had life experience but there might be a particular area that you don’t have much exposure. When I think of technology and how a lot of younger folks are more in tune and more astute with what’s going on with technology than some older folks, you could think of it that way. An older person may feel like an imposter in understanding some components of technology. And so, it totally depends on if a situation is new for you, if you’re not too familiar with it, if you’re outnumbered in that space but, over time, I do believe people can develop the confidence that they need to understand that there’s potential to learn and feel comfortable in whatever space they’re in to be patient with themselves to acquire those skills and not to allow Imposter Feelings to overtake them to dictate how they go about learning something or pursuing something.
Eddie Turner:
Thank you. And does gender play a role?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
It can. It certainly can, especially when you think about subordinated identity groups and every social identity category. And so, if we take gender, for example, and women, there’s something known as Stereotype Threat where you have a stigma in your mind about how others may perceive you based off of stereotypes. And so, all the different stereotypes about women, for example, women are too emotional to be leaders and that’s totally false. That’s fake news, right? Too emotional to be leaders or any other stereotype you can think of, that could be a threat in someone’s mind to try to not present as someone that’s “too emotional” in a workplace, right? So, that could certainly make someone feel like “Okay, I have to work very hard to make sure I don’t fulfill the stereotype so people will judge me.” And that also makes people feel like imposters in whatever space that they’re in.
Eddie Turner:
Does this affect women more than men?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Research has shown that it does not. It affects men just as it affects women, absolutely. During one of my conference sessions in speaking with some of the audience members who coaches a lot of people in the workplace where they work, they coached a lot more men through this process of overcoming the Imposter Experience more than they did with the women in the workplace. I thought that was very fascinating but, yeah, I certainly believe that it equally affects us all. Research has supported that as well.
Eddie Turner:
All right. So, is there a generational component to the Imposter Syndrome?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
That’s a really good question. I believe that Imposter Syndrome has always been around. Recently, there’s been language around it in order for people to identify it and understand that there’s not something wrong with them. Rather, this is a common experience that they’re having. And so, Clance and Imes, two researchers who studied and coined the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ in the ‘70s were the ones who started this investigation and sharing with the world about the Imposter Syndrome. And from then on, it’s taken off and more and more people are learning about it but, certainly, I do believe that it’s not necessarily generational. So, when you think about the current day, today, there are a lot more stressors than there were many decades ago, right? So, with more stressors, certainly there are more reasons for people to feel like imposters. So, there might be some changes in that regard but, overall, I do believe that Imposter Syndrome or Imposter Feelings have always been around. It’s just people are developing the language around it and because of a lot more stressors in society, there are a lot more reasons to feel like an imposter in the different spaces that we’re trying to navigate on social media, in the workplace and different leadership positions in our social settings.
Eddie Turner:
Yes, yes. Very interesting. And then when we think about other countries, is there an Imposter Experience that affects other countries equally or even those of us who may be here in the States, as we travel to other countries, do we now feel like an imposter in our travels? What role does the cultural demographics have with this?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Sure. I mean, I think it’s just generally human nature. For example, when I think of one of the reasons why people experience Imposter Feelings, it’s because they are in a very competitive environments where there are high expectations. And that’s a very common experience whether you’re in the workplace or any other situation. I believe, many other countries will have situations where people are competing with one another or there are high expectations for them to perform in a certain way. So, with that will come feelings of like “Am I good enough? Can I do this?” and comparing themselves to one another, right? So, I think it goes across the board. It certainly is a common experience that we all will encounter. No matter what cultural upbringing we have, it’s a common human experience.
Eddie Turner:
All right. Well, thank you, Dr. Nwaogu.

Well, we’re talking to Dr. Nwaogu about the Imposter Experience, what it is, and how we can overcome it if it is affecting us. And it sounds like it affects most of us at one point or another. So, we’ll take a brief break right here to have a word from our sponsors and we’ll be right back with Dr. Nwaogu.

This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Organizations who need to accelerate the development of their leaders call Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®. Eddie works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. Call Eddie Turner to help your leaders one on one as their coach or to inspire them as a group through the power of facilitation or a keynote address. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.

This is Lou Diamond from Thrive Loud with Lou Diamond and you’re listening to the Keep Leading!® Podcast with Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:
We are back and we are talking to Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu and she is explaining to us the Imposter Experience.

Dr. Nwaogu, before our break, you were defining what the Imposter Experience is and who it affects. We talked about several areas but there’s one area or group that we did not talk about and that is leaders. How does the Imposter Experience affect leaders?

Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Absolutely. So, we encourage leaders to show up as full participants in whatever space they’re in. So, when someone is feeling like an imposter in a particular context, they’re not able to show up as full participants and contribute in a group setting. And so, that’s something that we want to work on with leaders. We want leaders to feel empowered to be full participants and contribute within that group setting. It also limits leaders from exploring new possibilities or giving them the courage to pursue new experiences. And we certainly want our leaders to be explorative and to be more courageous in their endeavors. And so, that’s something that is concerning as well. And, as leaders, it’s really important for us to take care of ourselves, to be internal activists, and to apply affective self-care. So, if you are dealing with Imposter Feelings, that comes with stress and anxiety and challenge with feeling confident about yourself and possibly even depression and shame and self-doubt, all these negative feelings that may come with feeling like an imposter and that doesn’t really aid in someone’s application of self-care, right? So, we certainly want to be mindful of that as well.
Eddie Turner:
So, you used an interesting phrase there that I’ve not heard before. I’ve heard a lot about self-care but I’ve not heard the phrase “internal activist” being applied to taking care of oneself. I like that. Tell me a little bit more about that, please.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
I mean, that’s just what it is. We’re activists. Whether we’re holding picket signs and protesting or we’re advocating for someone, we’re all activists in some way or advocating for our interests or our needs. So, oftentimes, we have this external activism but what about the internal activism? How are we advocating for ourselves? How are we taking care of ourselves? And so, that’s pretty much what I mean by how are you advocating for yourself, how are you caring for yourself.
Eddie Turner:
That’s a very nice way of putting it. so, if a leader is not comfortable with who they are, then they’re not able to activate their own defenses for themselves, they’re not able to participate and fully be present and give of themselves in the context where they should because of suffering from this. So, how can they overcome it?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Sure. And before I kind of go over some tips for overcoming Imposter Feelings, it’s really important, I really want your audience to know that these Imposter Feelings, they may not disappear as soon as you want them to but it’s all about taking positive actions. In that way, you can overcome these feelings. So, the first piece of feedback that I like to share, especially with my undergraduate students, is to keep a success document. What I mean by a success document is it’s simply a written list of all of your accomplishments, your skills, your qualities, what you have to offer in a particular space and why you deserve to be there and why you are more than enough. Sometimes when we have a written document that we could whip out and revisit when we’re feeling these feelings, it really could help us reshape our mindset and remember how awesome we are, right? I have my success document that I whip out occasionally when these negative thoughts cloud my thinking and I have to be reminded of how awesome I am.

Another thing that I encourage people to do, there’s a common saying “You can’t heal what you don’t reveal.” So, I’m all about letting people know how you feel. So, I encourage all leaders to talk about Imposter Feelings early with trusted folks, with your colleagues, you might be in a classroom setting with your classmates. And what you’re doing there is you’re owning these feelings so Imposter Syndrome will own you. Really important. Because by staying silent and not telling anyone how you’re feeling, you’re allowing those feelings to dictate how you go about your relationship, how you go about your performance and all that.

Eddie Turner:
Yes, as one of my favorite books says “You allow your silence to turn into violence if you’re not careful.”
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Oh my, that’s good. Yeah, that’s very true.

Another really important thing is to pay attention to your network and to really surround yourself with supportive people, people who validate you, people who value you. These folks also need to be able to challenge you and to encourage you but it’s really important that these people respect you and value you so that you could feel empowered to go out and pursue all of your goals.

Another thing I would say is to take in positive affirmations that people share with you. I sometimes even have a difficult time doing that. You kind of get shy when someone’s complimenting you but internalize these, this positive feedback that people are giving you. If they’re telling you you’re a great presenter, you’re a great planner, you are a great report writer, internalize these acknowledgments and you can even add them to your success document, okay?

Oftentimes, a lot of leaders feel incompetent or inadequate in their performance but it’s really important to remain engaged in the areas that you want to master. And it’s really important because practice makes better. We know that. The more you practice something, the better you get. And sometimes people want to feel familiar with what they’re doing in order to build that confidence. So, it’s about being patient and remaining engaged instead of quitting because you don’t believe in yourself. Just to stay engaged in that particular skill set that you’re trying to develop, that’s another piece of feedback.

It’s really important to also just trust the process. Trust the process of growth when you enter new spaces where you feel like an imposter and to understand the real learning, it takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight to become comfortable within a space or to become familiar with a particular skill set.

Eddie Turner:
Okay, good. Thank you for sharing that. So, can you just give us a summary of each of those again? There were six tips.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Number one – you could keep a success document. Number two – you could talk about your Imposter Feelings early. And number three – surround yourself around supportive people. Number four – taking positive affirmations people share with you, internalize them. Number five – stay engaged in the areas you want to master. And number six – trust the process.
Eddie Turner:
Excellent. So, thank you for sharing those tips to help leaders overcome their Imposter Feelings.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
And if I want to add one more, I encourage everyone to seek out a leadership coach, especially if you’re dealing with Imposter Syndrome. Eddie is a great leadership coach. I myself, I’m a leadership coach. I enjoy walking folks through the process of overcoming these Imposter Feelings. So, that is super key and I encourage all of your listeners to pursue a leadership coach.
Eddie Turner:
Well, I certainly didn’t ask that but I will take the endorsement. Yes, everyone, number seven. No, you’re right, though. As leadership coaches, we absolutely specialize in helping people to overcome these types of feelings. And, certainly, as you mentioned earlier that it can be recurring and it doesn’t necessarily go away right away or as fast as we would like.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Yeah, absolutely.
Eddie Turner:
Wonderful. How would you summarize our conversation today, Dr. Nwaogu?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Sure. I’m not sure if I mentioned this already but just know that every leader really has the potential to make a great leader or to excel at something you’re looking to excel at. You already have what it takes. It’s just a matter of taking that positive action. Even if you feel fearful of whatever you’re pursuing or whatever space you’re in, as long as you stick with the plan of action that you have for yourself and work towards achieving your goals, even if you feel anxious, that is really the key. You already have the potential but, like I mentioned before, really work to perfect that craft that you’re working towards, that you’re working to be more skilled at. So, that’s the main message there.
Eddie Turner:
All right, very good. And on the Keep Leading!® Podcast, we want to give leaders words of wisdom that will help them keep leading. Do you have any words of wisdom or a quote that you would like to share?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Oh, yeah. Serving as a leadership coach for the Leadership Institute, which is a national institute for college students who are developing their leadership capacities, one of the models for that organization is to have a healthy disregard for the impossible. And then going through that program, I mean, that really stuck with me, it was really inspiring, and it really shifted my paradigm in terms of how I think about what I could achieve in life. So, the healthy disregard part is about just having this balanced, careful and planned way of pursuing what you want to pursue. And it’s about going for both your small and big goals and knowing that they are absolutely possible to achieve no matter what someone says, right? Oftentimes, when leaders share their goals or their vision with their friends or colleagues or whatnot, those people may not understand and they may discourage you from even wanting to pursue that particular goal but it’s really important to know that that vision wasn’t for them. That vision is for you and that’s why you’re the one who’s able to see it. So, not to get discouraged in what’s possible and, at the same time, having this healthy disregard for the impossible – you’re still planned in trying to execute what you want to achieve but you know that you could achieve all things, anything that you set your mind to. So, that’s my favorite little model there.
Eddie Turner:
All right. Well, thank you. Have a healthy disregard for the impossible.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Yes.
Eddie Turner:
Where can my listeners learn more about you?
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Sure. You could visit my website at EverLead.info or you can shoot me an email if you’re interested in speaking with me more about the Imposter Experience at EverLeadCC@gmail.com or you could follow me on twitter @Nwaogu.
Eddie Turner:
Excellent. Well, we will put all that in the show notes so that people can connect with you and reach out to you to learn more. Thank you for being a guest on the Keep Leading!® Podcast.
Dr. Ijeoma Nwaogu:
Awesome. It was a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Eddie Turner:
And thank you for listening. That concludes this episode, everyone. I’m Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®, reminding you that leadership is not about our title or our position. Leadership is an activity. Leadership is action. It’s not the case of once a leader, always a leader. It’s not a garment we put on and take off. We must be a leader at our core and allow it to emanate in all we do. So, whatever you’re doing, always keep leading.

Thank you for listening to your host Eddie Turner on the Keep Leading!® Podcast. Please remember to subscribe to the Keep Leading!® Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. For more information about Eddie Turner’s work please visit EddieTurnerLLC.com.

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The Keep Leading!® podcast is for people passionate about leadership. It is dedicated to leadership development and insights. Join your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator® as he speaks with accomplished leaders and people of influence across the globe as they share their journey to leadership excellence. Listen as they share leadership strategies, techniques and insights. For more information visit eddieturnerllc.com or follow Eddie Turner on Twitter and Instagram at @eddieturnerjr. Like Eddie Turner LLC on Facebook. Connect with Eddie Turner on LinkedIn.