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.


Without a doubt the pandemic brought many unexpected challenges for us all. However, one of the silver linings of the past two years has been a heightened awareness of what matters most for all of us. We learnt:

– The value of community

– The need to stay connected

– The importance of being supported

We also learnt that deeper connections matter, none of us can survive alone and to thrive and overcome the challenges of leadership life we need real, deep, and meaningful connections with others.

That’s why we have launched our new “Heads Together”, a new School Leadership community, designed to connect like-minded school-leaders and to provide a watering hole for inspiration, encouragement and support.

Our “Heads Together” Community is designed to provide School Leaders with:

– A vital network of support to help individuals manage the emotional strains and stresses of the role

– Collaborative forums for thoughtful exploration around timely and important leadership themes

– Inspiration and encouragement throughout the year to help keep leaders’ passion and purpose alive

If you’d like to find out more about the community, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…

Learn more


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