Different Types of Imposter Syndrome for Women of Color

Higher Ed Leadership Series

To My Women of Color in Leadership Roles in Higher Education, 

Congratulations on your well-deserved achievements and the new leadership roles you’ve accepted. Rising to positions in higher education executive roles is no small feat. These accomplishments often come with a nagging doubt: “Am I really cut out for this?” This feeling, imposter syndrome, is far too common among high-achieving individuals like yourself. 

We’ve all felt the weight of imposter syndrome at some point in our careers—it can be a significant barrier to our confidence and success. That’s why we will explore four different types of imposter syndrome and how they can manifest in your new leadership roles. 

  1. The Perfectionist: Superwoman Edition

As a perfectionist, you may feel the constant pressure to excel in every aspect of your role. The Perfectionism Paradox can be hard to escape. You set exceedingly high standards for yourself. Fear any hint of failure; all the while, that voice inside reminds you that “you’ll never measure up.” This can lead to burnout and self-doubt, especially when faced with the unfamiliar challenge of leadership. 

This Superwoman type of imposter syndrome manifests when you feel compelled to juggle multiple responsibilities flawlessly. Your downfall lies in being ambitious and accepting head-on any challenge that comes your way in an effort to prove you can handle anything. You may downplay your achievements and believe any success is merely a result of working harder than others. This can lead to feelings of exhaustion and inadequacy as you strive to maintain an unrealistic standard of perfection. 

  1. The Natural Genius

As a Natural Genius, you may believe your success is solely due to your innate talents and intelligence. Because of this, you may avoid taking on new challenges or seeking help, fearing that any struggle or setback will expose you as a fraud. This fear of failure can hinder your growth and development as a leader. 

  1. The Soloist

The Soloist type of imposter syndrome manifests when you feel reluctant to ask for help or collaborate with others. You may believe that you should be able to handle everything on your own, fearing that reaching out for support will undermine your competence or independence. This isolation can exacerbate feelings of self-doubt, even self-sabotage and isolation. 

  1. The Expert

As an Expert, you may constantly seek to acquire new knowledge and skills to prove your worthiness as a leader. You may feel like you need to be the authority on every subject, which can be difficult when you are leading a team of other subject matter experts, causing the fear that gaps in your expertise could expose you as a fraud. 

This relentless pursuit of knowledge can lead to feelings of overwhelm and imposter syndrome. 

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

It’s essential to recognize these types of imposter syndrome are not uncommon, especially in environments where high expectations and pressures abound. However, there are strategies you can employ to overcome these feelings of self-doubt and thrive in your leadership role. 

  • Seek Mentorship/Community: Feeling less alone in your journey will help ease feelings of imposter syndrome. Consider a peer support group, like Legacy Builders: WOC in Higher Ed Leadership Circle, specifically tailored to women of color in higher education leadership.
  • Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself and recognize that it’s okay to make mistakes and ask for help. Embrace vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness. 
  • Challenge Your Inner Critic: Identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to imposter syndrome. Replace self-doubt with affirmations of your skills, accomplishments, and value. 
  • Celebrate Your Achievements: Take time to acknowledge and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Keep a journal of your achievements and remind yourself of your capabilities during moments of self-doubt. 

Remember, you are not alone in experiencing imposter syndrome; seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. Together, we can create a supportive community where you can realize your full potential and thrive as a higher ed leader!

Talk soon, 


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