Do Military Leaders Suffer Imposter Syndrome?

James Tew
2 min readDec 23, 2020


In 1985, Dr Clance first began her research into Imposter Phenomenon (1). Defined as the internal experience of intellectual phoniness, Dr Clance studied the phenomenon amongst high performing women.

Today, we often refer to the phenomenon as Imposter Syndrome.

In 1978, Clance and Imes studied 150 high performing women. Despite all their success, these women felt they were imposters who did not belong.

Clance and Imes stopped short of concluding that only women experienced the phenomenon. Additional research has since indicated that men do succumb to similar feelings.

Do leaders, new to a position or role, experience similar feelings?

Clance concludes that the Imposter Phenomenon consists of six characteristics:

  1. The Imposter Cycle
  2. The need to be “special” or to be the very best
  3. Superman/Superwoman aspects
  4. Fear of failure
  5. Denial of competence and Discounting praise
  6. Fear and guilt about success

To be considered as an Imposter, two of these characteristics must be present (2).

In the military context or any competitive industry, the need to be “special” is prevalent. You have to stand out amongst your peers when competing for positions or postings. Which then breeds fear of failure. And if you then miss out on the position/posting, increased denial of competence ensues.

While this might not be the case amongst all military leaders, it is something that I’ve experienced. Not only in a leadership role but in previous postings too.

Imposter Syndrome is something that commonly addressed amongst creatives and entrepreneurs. I am yet to come across it in my professional circles. Perhaps it is seen as taboo to discuss your feelings of inadequacy in fear that it will have adverse consequences.

How do we combat Imposter Syndrome?

Employing a feedback loop that offers evidence-based reporting, both positive and negative, is one method I’ve found useful. It doesn’t involve page long reports but providing a “pat on the back” or an example of a different approach has worked well in my experience. And I’ve seen it from great leaders I’ve worked with throughout my career.

I’m sure there are other methods, styles and examples of how leaders have addressed Imposter Syndrome. I intend on finding out these examples and documenting them.

In the meantime, to combat my own Imposter Syndrome, I will continue to make consistent progress towards my goals.

Please leave a comment with any experiences or suggestions on how to combat this internal struggle.



James Tew

Dad of five. Naval Officer. Aspiring for consistent progress.