How To Stop Self-Sabotaging and Start Seeing Yourself As A Leader

Higher Ed Leadership Series

If you’ve ever questioned your abilities, felt overwhelmed, or doubted your worth in a new leadership role, you’re not alone. As you embark on this remarkable journey of guiding institutions, shaping minds, and leaving an enduring legacy, it’s crucial to acknowledge some of the challenges that may accompany your ascent. 

In leadership, imposter syndrome and self-sabotage can stealthily sneak up to hinder even the most talented individuals. This blog post is tailored for those such people, accomplished women of color in higher education leadership positions who may be grappling with one of the insidious effects of imposter syndrome: self-sabotage. If that sounds like you, know this: I understand you and the unique challenges you face. I’ve been you, and I’m here to share tips about how to stop self-sabotaging and start to lead with authenticity and confidence. 

Unmasking Self-Sabotage

Leadership is an intricate dance with imposter syndrome sneaking out of the shadows to trip you up and make you fall. It materializes as nagging doubts, second-guessing decisions, and the relentless fear of exposure as though someone will come into your office one day and say, “You don’t belong here!” Self-sabotage is one of the nasty side effects of imposter syndrome.  

What is self-sabotage? It boils down to behaviors or habits that you have that create problems in your daily life and interfere with you achieving your goals. Self-sabotage most often manifests as procrastination; you may start to avoid doing the things you really need to do. It can also cause perfectionism paralysis, where you start feeling so afraid to make a mistake that you feel like you can’t move forward, even if you’re presented with an exciting opportunity – like a new leadership role! 

By recognizing these subtle behaviors and understanding their roots, we can begin to dismantle the barriers that hinder our growth and confidently step into our leadership potential. Let’s untangle the intricacies of self-sabotage and pave the way for authentic, empowered leadership.  

The Overwhelm of Leadership

Moving into a leadership role in higher ed often includes significant life changes– relocation, new responsibilities, and the pressure to excel, especially when you haven’t seen anyone who looks like you succeed like this before. This transition can trigger self-doubt and a sense of isolation, only exacerbating those feelings of being an imposter.  

Recognizing Imposter Syndrome’s Evil Sidekick

Imposter syndrome can manifest in various ways, causing self-sabotaging behaviors that hinder personal or professional growth. Whether it’s second-guessing decisions, downplaying achievements, or not applying for that new higher role for fear of being exposed as a fraud, these behaviors can be detrimental to your success. 

It’s often hard to recognize when you’re so deeply entrenched in the self-sabotage cycle. It also tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy: you’re afraid to make a mistake, so you hyper-fixate on the need for things to be perfect. Then, you do make a mistake because your focus is on the fear of making one, not on the work at hand, and you think, “Of course, I made a mistake; I don’t really belong here.” You start to become increasingly uncomfortable in your role instead of starting to settle in and feel at home. 

This cycle can start to feel never-ending, so how do you break free? Let’s dive into some of the strategies to help you defeat those pesky self-sabotaging behaviors. (Hint: #3 is my favorite)  

Strategies to Overcome Self-Sabotage

How do you break free from that nagging little voice in your own head telling you, “You can’t do this!” or “Are you sure about that?” or “What if you mess up again?” It’s time to challenge that voice and transform it into a cheerleader instead of a nay-sayer. These strategies below are the key to unlocking your full potential and breaking free from that annoying little voice that, let’s face it, doesn’t really know what it’s talking about anyway. You do belong here. You are so capable

1) Self-Reflection and Awareness

Maybe it’s a cliché, but the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, and that could not be more true here. Start by acknowledging and understanding those feelings of imposter syndrome. Reflect on your achievements, recognize your capabilities, and remember that you deserve to be in a leadership position. When you start to notice negative thoughts like “Can I really handle this role?” or “Am I really cut out for this?” challenge those negative voices with positive affirmations. Remind yourself how capable you are and what you have accomplished. 

2) Seek Support and Mentorship

Having a support system and mentors in your life will benefit you, so work to build a support network within and outside your organization. Surround yourself with mentors who have navigated similar challenges. Share your concerns and frustrations with trusted colleagues or friends who can provide valuable perspectives and words of encouragement. 

Even if you’ve just started a role in a new city or town and you’ve moved far away from the support you once had, consider a leadership coaching group or a mentorship program like ours at Lead by Design Lab. Which brings us to our third strategy – 

3) Embrace Leadership Coaching

You need someone who can give you an outside perspective, help you get out of your head, and give you the tools to address these feelings – you need a coach! Someone to hold you accountable as you work on some of the other strategies outlined above. 

Consider hiring a leadership coach to guide you through the journey of overcoming imposter syndrome. A skilled coach, especially one with a background in organizational psychology (cough, cough), can provide tailored strategies, tools, and support to help you unlock your full potential. 

Breaking the Cycle of Self-Doubt

You may feel like you’re trapped in a cycle of self-doubt and self-sabotage with no way to escape it. Old habits can be hard to break, but with the right help, it is possible

The Benefits of Coaching

Coaching goes beyond addressing immediate challenges; it’s an investment in your long-term success. As I said, old habits are hard to break by yourself, especially when they are viciously cyclical, like self-sabotaging behaviors. It’s going to take a focused strategy – one that fosters self-awareness, and offers accountability, empowering you to break free from the self-fulfilling prophecy of a self-sabotage cycle and help you lead authentically. 

The Leadership Lab Coaching Program is designed to do just that: help you gain confidence and get out of your own way so that you can be the leader you were always meant to be.  

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

Work on shifting your mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth-oriented one. Experiencing a challenge in your career doesn’t have to mean your competence is threatened – this is just another opportunity for you to grow and gain experience. Hiring a coach means you also have someone to help celebrate your successes, learn from failures, and view setbacks as stepping stones toward improvement, not a hindrance to your career.  

Building a Legacy with Confidence

It’s time to recognize that you are not an imposter but a trailblazer. Your journey, experiences, and unique perspective contribute to the rich tapestry of leadership in higher education. Embrace your leadership role with confidence, knowing that you are deserving and capable of leaving a lasting legacy. The leaders who hired you, who brought you on to the team, offered you the spot as department chair, or who threw your name in the ring for deanship see value in you. They know how capable you are. It’s time that you start believing it too. 

It’s Time To Break Free From Self-Sabotage

As a woman of color in higher education leadership, you have the power to overcome self-sabotage and imposter syndrome. By embracing self-reflection, seeking support, and considering leadership coaching, you can break free from the cycle of self-doubt and unleash your true leadership potential. 

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and with the right tools and mindset, you can navigate the challenge and leave an indelible mark on the world of higher education. If you’re ready to break the cycle of self-sabotage and take steps toward overcoming those feelings of imposter syndrome, let’s chat

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