• James McNeil

Leadership and Impostor Syndrome

Former US Secretary of State and US Army General Colin Powell stated that “Leadership is solving problems.” He went on to explain, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stop leading them.” I heard this quote years ago, but I did not understand it at the time. In my opinion, sometimes a leader would have so much on his/her plate that subordinates might not want to trouble them with more. While this may be true, taking a close look at General Powell’s quote will reveal more information.

Why would your people stop bringing you their problems? It could be from the way you’ve treated them. John Maxwell’s book, “The Five Levels of Leadership” explores the development of a leader from Level One leaders (who depend on their title to lead) through Level Five leaders who people follow because of all they’ve done. In this book (and the companion teaching), it is demonstrated that the biggest jump a leader will ever make is from Level One to Level Two. At Level Two, followers start to give their leader permission to lead them.

Yes, permission. And that permission must be earned. This means that as a leader, you’ve given up the right to treat your people any way you want to. As a leader, you must treat your people with respect.

One thing you need to realize as a leader is that while you face impostor syndrome, so do your people. As their leader, you have the ability to tackle impostor syndrome for them in a very unique way. One of those is the feedback you give. If your people do not hear from you that they’re doing well, how will they know? Obviously, this is only when they are doing well. If someone is messing up, don’t lie to them.

“But I didn’t become a leader to hold people’s hand!”

If this is your reaction to what you just read, then it may be a good idea to take a look at why you became a leader in the first place. There really is only one reason to become a leader according to John Maxwell and focusing on this will help you fast track the five levels more quickly. That reason is to add value to people. You can’t be an aloof, distant leader and expect to earn your people’s permission to lead them. Period.

If you’re actively dealing with impostor syndrome, let’s talk. We can help you overcome this too. However, if your people are, you can earn their trust and their permission to be led by you daily by listening and showing them that they can bring you their problems. After all, the day they stop is the day you stop leading them.

If you'd like to know more about how to overcome impostor syndrome as well as other obstacles that can lead to suicidal thoughts and ideations, Finding Your Personal Mission addresses these obstacles. You can find it on Amazon at

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