Supervision can help you leverage your imposter, argues Maria Gray in the latest column from the Association of Coaching Supervisors


In my coaching supervision practice I often come across the phenomenon of “intense thoughts of intellectual and/or professional fraudulence despite verifiable achievements” (Clance & Imes, 1978) – a so-called imposter phenomenon. It’s a common pattern I observe among fellow coaches.

In this article I explore how the imposter feelings can play out in one’s coaching practice and the role that supervision plays in helping a coach to develop a healthier relationship with their imposter so it serves as a platform for growth.


The trap of trying hard to add value
Coaches often feel under enormous pressure to clearly add value to their clients. The nature of this expectation, and how it affects the coach’s performance, is a topic often raised in supervision.

The pressure to bring value amplifies self-doubt and imposter feelings. ‘How can I look as if I know what I am doing right now, so I am not found out?’, ‘I am sure other coaches would’ve known what to do; I am a poor coach.’ Such internal dialogue is counterproductive.

Experiencing imposter feelings can have negative consequences for the coach’s wellbeing and for the quality of the work they do for their client.

The pressure to add value and the fear of being ‘found out’ gets in the way of working with ‘what is’. It limits the coach’s ability to help a client creatively explore in ‘the moment’, as they become too focused on doing everything in their power to prove that they are good enough and ‘bring value’, rather than trusting the process and enabling the client to create value.

By feeling under pressure to add value the coach risks doing too much ‘heavy lifting’ for the client. Sometimes it can feel that a client is just not that interested in making changes. In the pursuit of bringing value at all costs the coach starts working harder and harder and the client less and less so. At the extreme, it can end up with the coach pulling the client towards change and doing all the work, perhaps reducing the chance that the change will actually be made or will last.
Moreover, imposter feelings can deepen when a coach goes through a stage when they struggle to attract new clients and to sell their coaching services. Most coaches would be familiar with that experience at some stages in their career, especially when starting out on their coaching journey or returning from a career break. The longer the experience continues, the deeper becomes the sense of being somehow inadequate as a coach.

Seek reassurance
Supervision is the space that helps coaches normalise the tensions described above, calling it out as a common experience. Receiving reassurance from a coach supervisor and validation of emotions can make a real difference to how a coach serves their clients. While seeking reassurance might not be considered the most desirable quality for a politician or a leader in a big corporate, seeking reassurance and validation through coaching supervision is definitely encouraged.
In my supervision practice I invite coaches to develop a healthy relationship with their imposter so that it serves as a platform for growth, rather than struggle with making the phenomenon disappear, as the latter can often deepen the coach’s sense of being somehow inadequate.


Protection mechanism
“Imposter phenomenon, like any other type of self-doubt, is a protection mechanism” (Gray, 2022). That is why it’s important that a supervisor invites a coach to honour the protective side of it and treat it with kindness and appreciation.
“Feeling self-doubt occasionally is part of being human. It is deeply connected with our desire to belong and be accepted – one of the most basic human emotional needs”
(Gray, 2022).

As coaches we help our clients through complex issues. Having occasional doubts about whether or not we competently handled a client relationship or particular moment in a coaching conversation is a healthy attribute of a coach committed to their professional mastery.

Supervision is the place to explore those doubts, and most importantly, test what we’re doing with others. It allows us to make sense of our own emotions and to plan the strategy for working with the client going forward.

Researchers Leonhardt and colleagues (2017) suggest that there are two different types of imposters. The first group, ‘true’ imposters, exhibit the negative self-views generally associated with imposter phenomenon sufferers. However, the second group, ‘strategic’ imposters, engage in ‘playing small’ in order to please, appear more modest and lower expectations. Both are forms of self-protection. A supervisor helps the coach to get in touch with the true nature of their imposter feelings.


Moving towards joy and satisfaction from helping others
When asked why they entered the profession, coaches often answer ‘to help others’, ‘to facilitate change’, ‘to make a difference.’

In helping others, coaches develop a rapport and empathise with their clients. Coaches’ qualities of non-judgement and compassion are often the important prerequisites for helping coaching clients through their most difficult life experiences.

In their research on the social psychology of compassion, Radey and Figley (2007) introduce a model for creating “compassion satisfaction” or feelings of fulfilment with clients. Although Radey and Figley conducted their research in relation to the work of clinical social workers, rather than coaches, experiencing compassion satisfaction as an alternative to ‘compassion fatigue’ is equally important for a coach’s wellbeing.

Regular coaching supervision, as a space for reflection and validation of success, adds to a coach’s sense of flourishing. It reinforces the coach’s joy in helping others, promotes satisfaction with their coaching work and facilitates a healthier relationship with their imposter.


“Change occurs when a person becomes what (s)he is, not when (s)he tries to become what (s)he is not”, proposed Arnold Beisser, an influential Gestalt therapist (Besser, 1970).

We are indeed at our best as coaches when we’re thoroughly comfortable in our own skin, no longer needing to impress, please or sell. That happens when we’re at peace with our internal imposter – when self-doubt facilitates
creative reflection and promotes professional growth, rather than becomes repetitive and circular, contributing to growing anxiety and even depression.

Coaching supervision is a space in which coaches can bring their doubts and uncertainties, and share their vulnerabilities. From deep acceptance of self to profound confidence combined with proper humility – that’s the shift we’re looking to make together in supervision.



  • P R Clance and S Imes,‘The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: dynamics and therapeutic intervention’, in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 15, 241-247, 1978
  • M Gray ‘Befriending the Imposter’, in Coaching Today, pp8-11, July 2022,
  • M Leonhardt, M N Bechtoldt and S Rohrmann, ‘All impostors aren’t alike – Differentiating the impostor phenomenon’, in Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1-10, 2017
  • M Radey and C Figley, ‘The social psychology of compassion’, in Clinical Social Work, 35, 207-214, 2007
  • A Beisser, ‘The Paradoxical Theory of Change’, in J Fagan and I L Shepherd (Eds.), Gestalt Therapy Now, Harper & Row, pp77-80, 1970


  • Maria Gray MSc, MA, is an Ashridge accredited executive coach and coach supervisor.She has been an executive coach since 2005 and a coach supervisor since 2015. Following a corporate career, Maria co-founded a change consulting and leadership development practice. She is EMCC Global Individual Supervision accredited (ESIA) and an EMCC Senior Practitioner (EIA). Her particular interest is in helping leaders and fellow coaches navigate their self-doubt, and help to turn such feelings into a source for personal and professional growth, assisting clients to become more resilient and confident versions of themselves.


  • The Association of Coaching Supervisors (AoCS) is an international community of coach supervisors and a source of good practice, where you can easily find an experienced, qualified and often accredited coach supervisor to work with:
  • www.associationofcoachingsupervisors.com