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Conquering Imposter Syndrome in Leadership

By Lianne Dominguez
Conquering Imposter Syndrome in Leadership

Ah, the "Accidental Leader" phenomenon – a label many of us have reluctantly worn at some point in our careers. I confess that I, too, once considered myself an accidental leader, stumbling into leadership roles like a dog chasing its tail. But as I reflect on my journey, I realize that this self-doubt, often disguised as imposter syndrome, is more common than we might think. I share some experiences from along my journey and five tips to help fellow accidental leaders overcome this pesky feeling of inadequacy.

Tip 1: Embrace Your Unique Path

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Embrace the fact that your journey might not look like a conventional ladder-climbing narrative. Unconventional paths often lead to unique perspectives and valuable skills. So own your accidental journey; it might be precisely what sets you apart as a leader.

An Accidental Journey:

Let me take you back to when it all began, 18 years ago. I stepped into the world of elementary teaching, excited and eager to make a difference. But it didn't stop there. I didn't just stick to my classroom; I rolled up my sleeves and jumped into every opportunity that needed a helping hand in our school. I was that person who couldn't sit still when there was a chance to improve things. Taking initiative was like my superpower, and I loved bringing everyone together for a good cause. You know, like when your friends need help moving, and you're the first one there with a truck and a smile. And guess what? All those volunteering efforts caught the attention of our Head of School. They saw my potential, and they gave me the chance to lead in areas that aligned with my strengths. I went from being a homeroom teacher and technology coach to becoming the head of teacher professional development where I got to create learning exchanges and growth opportunities for my colleagues. As fate would have it, an opening for an Admissions Director came up, and it seemed like a natural fit for me. The Head of School had seen the connections I had built with the community, and I was comfortable and confident dealing with both the academic and operational side of things. But life is funny, and it can lead you down unexpected paths. After a few years of building relationships and dealing with people, I felt a calling to explore counseling, so I went to get my credentials. It was like a tug at my heart, guiding me towards a new direction.

Thankfully, my Head of School was incredibly supportive and gave me a chance to apply what I learned. So, I delved into college counseling and socio-emotional support while still handling admissions. It was like balancing two plates, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. Our school was just the right size - not too big, not too small. And when the time came to move on, I left the school in capable hands with two brilliant individuals taking over my roles. Now, I carry more than a decade of non-traditional leadership experiences with me. It has prepared me for the next chapter - being part of a founding team to help build a new school in Malaysia.

So, remember, life is full of twists and turns, and sometimes the most unexpected detours can lead to the most fulfilling destinations. Embrace every opportunity that comes your way, and let your passions guide you. Who knows, you might just find yourself on a journey beyond your wildest dreams!

Tip 2: Recognize Your Achievements

Take a moment to acknowledge your accomplishments and the progress you've made. Imposter syndrome thrives in the shadows of self-doubt. Shine a light on your successes, big or small, and celebrate the skills you've developed along the way. You've earned your place – own it!

Celebrating Successes: 

When I first stepped into the world of startup schools, I was on a mission – a mission to build, create, and innovate like never before. The adrenaline of being in "build mode" consumed me, and all I could think about was moving forward, bringing new ideas to life, and solving challenges with gusto. Year after year, I poured my heart and soul into developing programs that would empower every student who walked through our school's doors. I wanted to provide them with opportunities to explore their passions in ways they could have never imagined. It was a journey of intentionality, where every system, policy, and strategy were carefully defined and shaped to nurture a truly transformative educational experience.

With all the opportunities, a new space for leadership opened for me, and I would take on each challenge with the same determination as before. But somewhere along the way, I realized that I had been moving forward so quickly that I forgot to pause and reflect on the progress I had made. From founding faculty, I became a dorm parent, then a Boarding Director, then a Dean of Students, and finally, a Principal. There was always something demanding my attention, care, and time investment. But amidst all the excitement and momentum, I felt a nagging sense that something was missing.

It took me a while to slow down and look back, to truly see how far I had come. In that moment of reflection, it hit me – I had grown more than I could have ever imagined. Each step, each role, and each challenge shaped me into a stronger, more capable leader. That's when I realized the danger of not pausing to appreciate and reflect on my progress. In my rush to forge ahead, I risked missing the valuable lessons and insights that came from acknowledging my journey. So, I made a conscious decision to create moments of pause within my day, my week – to acknowledge my growth and celebrate the decisions I had made that had brought me to where I was.

Owning My Accomplishments: 

I started intentionally celebrating even the smallest successes – the ideas I had heard and developed, the decisions I had made that defined who I was as a leader. As I recognized my achievements and owned my place in this ever-evolving journey, something incredible happened.

Doors started opening for me in many areas of my life – personally and professionally. It was as if the universe was waiting for me to cast self-doubt aside and approach new beginnings with confidence. Embracing my accomplishments and the skills I had developed along the way gave me the courage to take on even greater challenges and seize opportunities that I would have previously hesitated to pursue.

Imposter syndrome may thrive in the shadows of self-doubt, but when you shine a light on your successes and own your place, you'll find that the path forward becomes clearer, and the possibilities become limitless.

Tip 3: Seek Out Feedback

Break down the wall of uncertainty by seeking honest feedback from your team and mentors. Listen actively, and you'll likely find that the positive impressions they have of you are grounded in reality. Constructive feedback can also help you identify areas for growth, ultimately boosting your confidence.

The Power of Feedback:

Seeking feedback has helped ground me in my journey. As I rose in my education administration and leadership roles, I recognized the significance of continuous learning and drawing from the experiences of others. My mentors, colleagues, students, and the Principal’s Training Center (PTC) network played a pivotal role in shaping my approach to seeking feedback.

Insights From Mentors and Colleagues:

From my mentors, colleagues, and students I learned the value of humility and the importance of being open to constructive criticism. Their guidance taught me that seeking feedback was not a sign of weakness, but a testament to my commitment to growth as a leader. I adopted the mindset that every interaction was an opportunity to learn, and I eagerly absorbed insights from colleagues, teachers, parents, and students alike.

Learning From the Principals' Training Center: 

The PTC training also provided me with practical frameworks for collecting feedback and implementing best practices in educational leadership. The courses taught me of the significance of active listening and creating a safe space for open communication. Armed with these tools, I approached seeking feedback as a collaborative process, where all stakeholders had a voice in shaping the school's direction. As a result, I established regular feedback sessions, one-on-one meetings, and surveys to elicit input from all members of the school community. The lessons from my PTC leadership courses helped me frame my questions effectively, encouraging honest and constructive feedback. I emphasized the importance of anonymity and confidentiality to ensure that individuals felt comfortable expressing their views freely.

Continuous Improvement: 

Through the years, insights gathered through these feedback channels became the compass guiding my decision-making processes. By implementing changes based on feedback and valuable input, I have contributed to fostering an environment of shared responsibility and inclusivity.

Tip 4: Engage in Mentorship and Advocacy:

Remember how mentors played a pivotal role in your journey? Be that mentor for someone else. Human-centered leaders uplift and advocate for those around them. When you spot potential in someone, don't hesitate to encourage and support them. By fostering growth in others, you'll find validation in your own abilities as well.

The Impact of Mentorship:

Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to have mentors who saw my potential and became advocates for my growth. One leader, in particular, stands out. He is an exceptional leader with a profoundly positive impact on me. With genuine investment in my development, he recognizes and leverages my strengths, guiding me toward the best version of myself at work. Under his guidance, I've discovered my vision and purpose, aligning my path with my passions. His unwavering enthusiasm and belief in my abilities inspire me to push my boundaries and strive for excellence.

I am incredibly grateful for such a remarkable mentor in my life. His support has given me the confidence to explore new opportunities and discover my potential. The lessons and encouragement he provides continue to shape my journey toward success and fulfillment. Because of the impact he's had on me, I am deeply committed to being an advocate and a mentor for others, empowering them to reach their fullest potential as well.

A Commitment to Uplift and Empower Others:

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is creating pathways for everyone around me, be it teachers or students. I wholeheartedly believe that every person has the potential to flourish when their strengths are recognized, appreciated, and cultivated. It's a belief that naturally guides me in conversations, leading me to create opportunities for others to thrive.

As a principal, it's easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of grades, curriculum, and deadlines, sometimes forgetting the most important aspect – the people. I am committed to hearing and knowing each person's story, and if possible, providing them with opportunities to continue writing it beautifully. I consider myself fortunate to be in a school where I can give my teachers and students the time and space to pursue their passions and carve their own pathways using their unique strengths.

Supporting Beyond the School:

In my journey of education leadership, my commitment to uplifting others extends far beyond the school walls. I find great joy and fulfillment in joining the Association for International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) mentorship program, where I serve as a mentor. Here, I connect with brilliant and passionate individuals, coming together to turn their dreams into reality. It's a space of empowerment and growth, where we uplift one another to reach new heights.

Additionally, as a New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation visitor, I offer mentorship and assistance to schools, serving as a critical friend. Together, we discover their unique stories, strengths, and opportunities for growth. It's a rewarding experience to guide them toward continuous improvement and excellence.

Presently, I am thrilled to be part of the Principals' Training Center family as a summer training facilitator. My mission is clear—to provide unwavering support, advocacy, and encouragement to leaders worldwide. Together, we uncover the strengths that have been within them all along, empowering them to embrace their full potential.

Uplifting Every Day:

Every day presents an opportunity to uplift someone – a staff member, a colleague, a worker, a student, or a parent. Mentorship and advocacy are serious commitments, and I choose to be in these spaces as long as I serve the people around me. The joy of empowering others, of being part of their growth and success, fuels my passion and drives me to make a difference in their lives. It's a journey of learning, growth, and shared achievements, and I'm honored to play a role in shaping the destinies of those around me.

Tip 5: Cultivate a Support Network

Surround yourself with a support network of peers and colleagues who understand your struggles and can provide encouragement when you need it most. Together, you can navigate the challenges of leadership and conquer imposter syndrome as a team.

The Power of Support:

I remember when I first became an admissions director, the weight of responsibility sometimes felt overwhelming. I struggled with imposter syndrome, questioning whether I was qualified for the role and if I could effectively lead my team. During a leadership conference, I had the opportunity to meet other directors from different schools. We quickly connected, sharing our experiences, challenges, and aspirations. It was incredibly comforting to realize that I wasn't alone in my feelings of self-doubt. We formed a tight-knit support network, where we could openly discuss our struggles and provide each other with encouragement and advice. Having this group of understanding peers helped me gain perspective and confidence. Whenever imposter syndrome crept in, I knew I could reach out to them, and they would remind me of my strengths and the impact I was making as a leader.

Navigating through Uncertainty:

Being a Principal before, during, and after Covid meant that whatever I knew before had to change. The uncertainties and structural shifts in online learning challenged me more than ever. I was committed to creating an inclusive and innovative learning environment for our students, but implementing new educational practices in this new landscape was extremely demanding. In my school, I leaned on my teachers and senior leadership team for support. Together, we navigated the uncharted waters of virtual learning, and their dedication and collaboration reassured me that we were in this together.

The Power of Peers and Mentors:

I also decided to seek out different mentors within the education community who had expertise in areas I wanted to develop. Their insights and wisdom were invaluable as they guided me through the complexities of educational leadership during these trying times. Additionally, I found great support in the PTC for professional development. Not only did I gain the tools to be a more efficient leader, but I was able to cultivate a support network with colleagues from all over the world. Our home group meetings became a safe space for me to share my doubts and concerns, and I found comfort in the understanding and empathy of my peers.

Strength in Connections:

Their guidance and encouragement not only helped me overcome imposter syndrome but also gave me valuable insights and strategies to improve my leadership skills. Beyond this, I continue to find spaces where I can establish support groups to regularly discuss challenges, share best practices, and celebrate successes. These connections are lifelines in moments of uncertainty, giving me the strength and determination to keep moving forward.

A Journey Together:

In the journey of education leadership, having a support network is vital. It's a reminder that we are not alone in our struggles and that together, we can conquer any challenges that come our way. As we navigate through changes and uncertainties, let us remember the power of cultivating meaningful connections with peers and colleagues who understand our journey. Together, we can uplift and empower one another, ensuring that we continue to make a positive impact in the lives of our students and school communities.

To my fellow “accidental” leaders, I hope these five tips and short anecdotes have ignited a flame of inspiration within you today! Remember that imposter syndrome may sneak up on us, but it doesn't (and shouldn’t) define us. Embrace your journey, recognize your achievements, seek support, and advocate for others. Together, we can conquer imposter syndrome and lead with authenticity and genuine confidence. Here's to embracing the leaders we were meant to be and celebrating the beautiful transformations that unfold when we dare to believe in ourselves.

As one wise teacher told me before, “There’s no such thing as coincidence.” It's true; we are not accidental leaders. We are here for a reason, and our journey has led us to this point, where we have the power to make a profound impact on the lives of those around us. Embrace your strengths and use them to inspire and uplift others. Step forward with pride, knowing that your journey is your own, and every step you take is a testament to your resilience and determination.

Read more about Lianne’s leadership experiences in Navigating Stormy Waters: Using Human-Centered Principles in Difficult Conversations.

Further Reading and Research:

  • The Imposter Syndrome Remedy by E. V. Estacio - This book provides practical strategies to overcome imposter syndrome and build self-confidence in your leadership journey.
  • Dare to Lead by Brené Brown - Brené Brown offers insights into vulnerability, courage, and effective leadership, helping you embrace your authentic self as a leader.
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck - Explore the power of a growth mindset and how it can transform your perception of yourself as a leader.
  • Radical Candor by Kim Scott - This book delves into building strong relationships and effective communication in the workplace, a valuable skill for any leader.
  • Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute - An insightful book that explores the role of self-deception in leadership and how to break free from its constraints.


Originally published on LinkedIn.


Lianne Dominguez is a dynamic and innovative leader within the international school community with extensive experience in academics, residential life, and international school operations. Her expertise brings valuable insight to complex challenges and program development. As the Secondary School Principal and founding member of Shattuck-St Mary's Forest City International School in Malaysia, Lianne's leadership in articulating the school's mission and vision has been crucial in driving its growth and success. A firm believer in creating safe practices for professional growth and supervision, Lianne is dedicated to promoting staff and student success. She has successfully implemented programs that foster a culture of support and collaboration among staff, ensuring that everyone has access to the resources and guidance they need to thrive and flourish. As an experienced mentor and educator, Lianne has worked with both adult learners and adolescents in schools and NGOs. She also serves as a facilitator at the Principals Training Center Summer Institute and is a NEASC Accreditation Visitor. Currently, Lianne serves as a mentor for the AIELOC’s Aspiring Leaders of Color program, reflecting her passion for diversity and inclusion initiatives. Her commitment to empowering the next generation of leaders and fostering inclusive communities has made her an exceptional role model and a valuable member of the education community.

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