How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome As a Non-Executive Director or Chair

Imposter Syndrome can be defined as a condition that causes feelings of anxiousness due to someone feeling unqualified, incompetent and unconfident in their abilities, despite being high-performing in external, objective ways. This can lead to an individual believing they are a ‘fraud’ or ‘phony’ and living in fear that their ‘inadequacies’ will be exposed.

The term was first coined in 1978 by two clinical psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes when they undertook a study called “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” Whilst this paper was solely focused on imposter syndrome in professional women, research shows that both men and women can equally suffer from it.

In 2023 alone, there was an average of 60,500 searches a month for Imposter Syndrome in the UK. It isn’t a topic that is widely discussed, yet so many non-execs will suffer from it at some point in their career. If this is something you are currently experiencing, it’s reassuring to know that you aren’t alone and that there are steps you can take that can help these feelings of inadequateness pass.

Here are some of our top tips on how to deal with imposter syndrome in the boardroom.

Be your own cheerleader

Hiring a Non-Executive Director is one of the most important processes a business can go through so appointing someone to the board isn’t a decision taken lightly. If they didn’t think you are capable of doing a role, you wouldn’t have been offered it. While it’s important to have a support network behind you, you also need to believe that you deserve your place in the boardroom. We can sometimes be our own worst enemy and show others a kindness and grace that we don’t always remember to extend to ourselves. It’s important to reflect on all of your achievements in both a personal and professional capacity.

“You’ve been through a highly competitive process to be where you are,” says Steven Dickson, a Non-Executive Director for Scottish Water, Scottish Courts & Tribunal Service and Member of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. “So I always bring myself back to that and [think] someone with those skills that I may think I don’t have has actually thought that I’m worthy enough to do that,” he adds. Acknowledging the hard work and sacrifices that have got you to this moment will help you to understand that your success isn’t fraudulent and you are exactly where you should be.

Focus on what you bring to the board

Vanessa Vallely OBE CCMI, Trustee at MS Together encourages non-executive directors to challenge their imposter syndrome. “Don’t rule yourself out from the offset. There are a lot of different transferable skills you can bring,” she says. You may come from a finance background, be an expert in governance or a tech whizz from a career in digital. Each board is made up of a mix of people, all bringing different things to the table. Your experience, whatever it may be, can help to strengthen a board’s composition. “You’re not supposed to be all encompassing. It’s about looking at the value that you can add as part of a bigger puzzle”, adds Vallely. Think about it from that perspective – what can you as an individual bring to that particular role.

Take time to learn

Just like it’s important to focus on your strengths, you also need to identify your weak areas. Self education is critical as a non-executive director and having a self-development plan in place will help you to feel more in control. As a NED, you are legally liable (personally) for the decisions of the board so if you don’t know or understand something, it is your responsibility and duty to learn about it. No-one is expected to know everything but you need to have that drive to want to find out.

Speaking to fellow board members to learn more about the organisation and their experiences of operating at board level, getting yourself a mentor and joining specialist non-exec online groups (like our Dynamic Boards NED Community) to share advice and ask questions, are all great ways to improve your performance in the boardroom. Having conversations with individuals across the organisation that you are on the board of and keeping up-to-date with the comments on Glass Door online, can help you to embed yourself in your company’s culture and offer you invaluable insight into what’s happening on the ground.

Re-frame your thinking

See anxiety as a growth opportunity.The element of nervousness due to imposter syndrome can be crippling but it can also help to keep you on your toes in the boardroom. Rather than just coaxing along and not really adding any value to the discussions around the table, it can help supercharge you to raise your game and continue your learning, growth and development. If you can take this anxiety and turn it into a force of positive energy, it will allow you to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Stay true to you

“Be yourself and be authentic,” says Jenny Brown, Chair of the Longhurst Group. She believes this is what creates true diversity in the boardroom. When you’re feeling insecure and imposter syndrome sets in, it can be tempting to adopt a persona that you think is required for a role. Don’t do this. Trying to be someone else will make you feel even more out of depth and people will see through the facade. Being unapologetically yourself will enable you to connect to others in a genuine way and your skills, personal experiences and perspective will bring a unique voice to the table and add value. “I might occasionally take it to extremes,” smiles Brown. “For example, I can only wear Doc Martins or trainers. You won’t see me wearing a suit because I can’t wear a suit with my Doc Martins. You’ve got to be comfortable but still respectful of the environment so I’ve got my smarter Doc Martins and my less smart Doc Martins,” she adds.

"Everybody is the same"

When we find ourselves in a new environment, it’s very natural to feel uncertain and to look around and think that everyone else has all the answers. Edd Hall, a Non-Executive Director at Platform Housing Group, recalls the first time he stepped foot into a boardroom as a new trainee board member: “It was exciting and daunting,” he admits. “In my heart, I’m just Edd the plumber and I’m going into this room with all these big profile, very well known professional people within their remit so it was almost like meeting a celebrity for the first time. You didn’t want to slip up by saying anything too silly,” he says. This is a common feeling that both new and existing non-execs can relate to. It wasn’t until Edd got to know other board members and found common ground with them, that he was able to relax. “I realised that they are mums and dads and colleagues and friends and it doesn’t matter how qualified they are, at the end of the day they are here to do a job and then they go home to their families and live their lives like I do. That’s when I started to see all my peers as just people and that’s how I built my confidence. Everybody is the same,” adds Hall.

Most Non-Execs suffer with Imposter Syndrome at some point in their career but it is important to practice self-compassion, challenge your expectations of yourself and remember the journey that got you to where you are. Keeping the discussion open is a good reminder that it’s common to feel like this and important to acknowledge those feelings and work through them to realise your full potential in the boardroom.

Are you looking for Non-Exec roles?

We list c.100 paid NED board roles each month from right across the UK. It’s totally free to view our roles, and we provide blogs and YouTube videos to encourage and inspire NEDs. You can sign up to view them here.

Join the NED community

Are you on a UK board in a Non-Exec capacity? If so, join our free NED Community! We host monthly online meet-ups where we hear from experts and allow time for peer-to-peer support between Non-Execs. If you want to become a more thoughtful and effective board member, register here.

Is your board looking to recruit a NED or Chair?

We can help advertise a role to candidates who will bring the skills, experience and perspectives you need on your board. We advertise over 1000 Non-Exec board roles a year from across the UK. You can see information on our advertising options here and you can get in touch with the Dynamic Boards team at

Useful Information:


Contact Us


Copyright © Dynamic Boards Ltd 2021

Sign up to our newsletter