Helping you mobilise your inner resources to achieve your dreams

As an executive, could you be accused of wearing ‘the emperor’s new clothes’?

EmperorRemember the Hans Christian Andersen tale about the Emperor’s new clothes?  He was tricked into believing he was wearing a splendid outfit, when wearing nothing at all, based on the fawning compliments of his courtiers.

Believing he looked so exceptionally fine, he paraded through the streets to the cheering adulation of a well-briefed crowd.

One little boy didn’t understanding the briefing – that the suit of clothes was invisible to people who are stupid.  He rightly pointed out that the Emperor was naked which is where the whole charade fell apart and the Emperor was shamed in front of the whole empire.

I’ve often noticed several reverse parallels between this and a topic presented by my Executive Coaching clients.

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon within which the executive can’t internally accept their success, despite a great track record, a welter of evidence of achievement and positive feedback from others. It can be debilitating and also very stressful.  It’s frequently presented by Execs who are particularly successful.


Just as the Emperor – far from the truth – looks in the mirror and imagines how splendid he looks in his finery, the executive with Imposter syndrome reflects on their achievements and imagines they are merely a result of being in the right place at the right time.  A good coach challenges this flawed thinking; by enabling the executive to reflect on their achievements they internalise the reasons for their success as resting on their skills, hard work and determination – not luck.

Feedback from others

The Emperor accepts the fawning and misleading adulation of his courtiers.  The executive with Imposter syndrome tends to dismiss positive feedback from others.  A useful intervention deployed by a good coach at this point helps the executive to assimilate 360° feedback, and also to challenge their thoughts on whether they’re really just surrounded by a circle of ‘Yes men’.

“But he’s got nothing on!”

It’s the little boy in the crowd who points out the truth about the Emperor’s clothes.  The executive with Imposter syndrome thinks there is such a boy awaiting them in meetings, presentations and when networking.  Somebody is going to rumble them.  Sooner or later EVERYONE will know.  Coaching helps the executive improve their emotional intelligence, so that they unlearn their old script and negative beliefs, perhaps repeated by the little boy that used to be them, but which now has no use or relevance to them as an adult professional.

Oh, the shame of it…

Hans Christian Andersen doesn’t say what happened to the Emperor but I don’t think he lived happily ever after. The executive with Imposter syndrome over-amplifies the fear of what might happen if….by asking “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” This is a great question to use when carrying out executive coaching that puts this into perspective.

What do you think of my parallels?  What advice would you offer to help someone with Imposter Syndrome?

For more information on executive coaching or leadership/management coaching, contact me on 01302 220221.

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