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How coaches can overcome self-doubt leading to “imposter syndrome”

When coaches learn to address insecurities leading to “imposter syndrome” — the worry they are not qualified for a task or position — they are better able to feel a sense of value in their work with clients.


Coaches sometimes worry they are not qualified for a task or position


Addressing insecurities helps coaches counteract “imposter syndrome”


Coaches who feel a sense of value are more effective in supporting clients

Wisdom Weaver

Coaches are not immune to self-doubt or “imposter syndrome”

Coaching is an adaptive profession. Clients have diverse needs or may work with a coach over several years to address different growth goals. While these changing dimensions can provide a rewarding challenge for coaches, they can also be a source of anxiety. In his presentation on the critical moments of coaching, Wisdom Weaver Dr. Erik de Haan reflects on how coaches often underestimated the impact of their work with clients.

Feeling unqualified for a task or position, also known as imposter syndrome, is incredibly common even among seasoned professionals. In U.S. studies of imposter syndrome, researchers find that roughly 70% of professional women experience insecurity at some point during their careers, although estimates for men vary widely. For a coach who is supposed to be guiding clients through professional confidence, it can be challenging to admit to feelings of self-doubt.

In recent years, coaches have been opening up more about the effects of imposter syndrome on their own work. In the “Everything Life Coaching” podcast, John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux describe struggling with the insecurity that they have nothing to give to their clients. They suggest peer coaching and mentorship as solutions to combat negative imposter syndrome while also gaining practical skills. Wisdom Weavers at different points of the Future of Coaching Convening noted that supervision and mentorship could potentially enhance coach well-being and self-confidence. By sharing experiences of imposter syndrome with mentees, John and Noelle are working to normalize insecurity and help coaches focus on their strengths as they grow professionally.

Erik’s presentation reveals opportunities for coaching research with implications for professional development in the field. As he mentions, psychology has already examined this “Rashomon effect,” where therapists undervalue the contributions they make to their clients. More recently, imposter syndrome has been linked to burnout and compassion fatigue among mental health professionals. Similar research in coaching should look to support new and established coaches in their career development, confidence, and skills, especially targeting imposter syndrome.

Coaches can address their own self-doubt by:

  • Seeking out peer coaching and mentoring opportunities to address a negative self-image
  • Gaining practical skills through continued training to enhance self-confidence

Acknowledging insecurity leads to more empathetic coaching

While imposter syndrome is never pleasant, coaches who acknowledge these negative feelings are uniquely equipped to show empathy and support for their clients. By sharing personal experiences of imposter syndrome, coaches normalize self-doubt while illuminating opportunities for growth. 

In addition to helping clients identify their strengths and unique contributions to a given role, coaches can highlight ways to combat negative internal thoughts. Imposter syndrome has some potential benefits because it can increase social awareness and motivate growth. Coaches can build off these benefits both in their own professional development and when serving clients.

As coaches work to better understand and empathize with their clients, they can use shared experiences to act as a coach-mentor. Research in psychology indicates that professionals from underserved backgrounds and women are more susceptible to feeling like they are unqualified for their position.  As the insecurity grows, imposter syndrome can contribute to an increase in depression, anxiety, and even physical symptoms of stress. 

Presenting at the Future of Coaching Convening, Wisdom Weaver Dr. Andromachi Athanasopoulou covered how women in leadership often look to female coaches to mentor them through defining a personal leadership identity. Coaches from underrepresented backgrounds who work through their own imposter syndrome can serve as mentors and examples of professional success in addition to using traditional coaching techniques.

Coaching and the United Nations Global Goals

When looking at the United Nations Global Goal 10 to reduce inequalities and Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, coaches who overcome imposter syndrome model and encourage professional growth for their clients to end disparities in leadership. Organizations can also work to invest in expanding a diverse management team by investing in coaching and mentorship for employees from underrepresented groups.

About this Convening

Forty-one Wisdom Weavers from across the globe gathered to share their thoughts and observations on Shaping the Future of Coaching across three separate Future of Coaching Convenings in September 2021. Learn more about the participants and topics covered in this Convening.

For the complete report and research recommendations, see Boyatzis, R.E., Hullinger, A., Ehasz, S.F., Harvey, J., Tassarotti, S., Gallotti, A., & Penafort, F. (2022). The grand challenge for research on the future of coaching. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. DOI: 10.1177/00218863221079937

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