Coaching & Leadership Development
August 7, 2017

How Heads can Overcome the “Imposter Syndrome”

How Heads can Overcome the “Imposter Syndrome”


When I became a headteacher at 31, I knew little of the emotional and psychological complexities of the role and what I’d have to do to overcome them.

15 years after being told by my careers teacher that I’d amount to nothing more than a supermarket checkout girl, I became the headteacher of an inner-city primary school.

To the outside world I appeared confident and happy, but internally it was a different story. Nearly every day I questioned myself – did I have the right to be here? Was my careers teacher right? Did I have what it took to be a headteacher?

For more than a few headteachers, this is how imposter syndrome works. If they have previously had experiences that have caused them to question their self-worth, they can find it incredibly difficult to internalise their achievements once they’ve reached the pinnacle of their careers.

As a result, they feel an array of emotions – guilt, shame, anxiety, fear and self-doubt, to name but a few. Without the right support, many heads will adopt behaviours that do little to address the root cause of their feelings. Instead, they will adopt coping strategies that only serve to exacerbate their feelings of inadequacy.

As an executive coach for headteachers, I’ve found that one of the best ways to help school leaders overcome imposter syndrome is to help them consider their emotional and psychological challenges within the context of Maslow’s ‘Four Stages of Learning’ model.

Maslow’s model helps us make sense of the emotional and cognitive processes that accompany new learning experiences – particularly those destabilising emotions and thoughts felt with differing levels of intensity between ‘Unconscious incompetence’ and ‘Conscious competence’.

Newly appointed heads will experience this at the beginning of their headships; they might conceal it well, but established heads can experience something similar when changing schools, or when the circumstances surrounding their role changes dramatically.

In my own practice, I’ve found that a positive mental and emotional shift can be created when individuals are encouraged to respond to questions that cause them to reflect on their sense of purpose and vocation.


–  Why am I in this role; what guides me?

– Who do I want to be?

– Who believes in me?


– Complying with others’ expectations

– Being affected by imposter syndrome

– Experiencing self-doubt


–  Acting with authenticity and confidence

– Focusing on the best vision of yourself

–  Seeing evidence of your achievements

When school leaders engage in ‘inner work’ such as this, the ‘outer’ work becomes less scary. The symptoms of imposter syndrome will soon disappear as individuals learn to fully embrace and accept who they are.

Renew and Reflect on Your Vision, Values & Purpose on our School Leadership Retreat…


This September, Integrity Coaching will be offering a unique opportunity for School Leaders to reflect, re-energise, reconnect with their values and focus on their strategy for the year ahead.

With a mixture of journaling, discussion, walking and a series of structured discussion, these two day getaways will allow you to explore some of the most important questions for you as a leader and as a person.


The retreats will be facilitated to enable you to get the most of the experience and based in a location that lends itself to talking and walking whilst considering the important themes that guide you in your role as a headteacher.


Above all, the retreats are designed so that all those who attend will leave with…


– A clear understanding of how to lead your school without sacrificing your own well-being

– A way forward for overcoming the challenges of your role and remaining confident in your ability to achieve your goals for yourself and your school.

– An understanding of how to communicate your vision, drive strategic leadership & empower all pupils & staff to flourish.

–  A renewed connection with your passion and purpose to sustain you for the year ahead.


Learn More

Places are very limited, so to avoid missing out – please register your interest today!

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