Impostor Syndrome is experienced by many leaders and can have far reaching consequences for organizations. As an individual if you experience self-perceived intellectual phoniness and feel like an imposter, don’t panic. It is quite common in high performing leaders. Various researches have been done in the past as well as in the present where researchers investigated the prevalence of such inner experience by interviewing a sample of many high achieving women. These participants come from professionally highly recognized environment. Some of them had displayed academic achievements through degrees earned and some have been formally recognized for their professional excellence. In short all of them have consistent evidences of external validation for their accomplishments. However, despite all such accolades, these women lacked the internal acknowledgement of their own accomplishments. And many of them experienced impostor phenomenon showcasing symptoms related to depression and generalized anxiety.
For those who have heard this term for the first time, here is a simplified example to make you understand what it exactly means. Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you don’t deserve to be where you are in life, a phenomenon wherein successful people doubt their competence. Like a renowned writer who has feelings of self-doubt and thinks that ‘I am not a good writer. I have not been able to show my true competence in my field.’ You begin to doubt your own ability and incompetence is the number one fear of executives worldwide.
Early researchers based on their clinical experience highlighted that impostor phenomenon was less prevalent in men than women. However, in the current scenario both gender leaders have feelings of internal inadequacy that is rising high. With a performance mindset, many leaders feel the concern of being unfit for their job. Moreover, impostor syndrome in the workplace can manifest itself as:
- Underperforming teams
- Avoidance of feedback and reluctance to ask for help
- Inability to internalize achievements and downplaying accomplishments
- Turning down new opportunities
- Overworking to the point of burnout for proving oneself
- A fear of being exposed as inexperienced or incompetent
- Failing to start or finishing projects due to poor communication
So, what and how you need overcome the follies and cultivate the positives o your advantage?
Create a psychological safety net to enhance a learning mindset
Many leaders use Impostor Syndrome as a competitive advantage. Mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of the learning process rather than one’s own underlying failings. To admit that one cannot have all the answers is nothing to do with the feeling of fraud. Instead, organizations must create a psychological safety net where leaders help define and solve problems more efficiently, creatively, and collaboratively.
Foster a climate of inclusion
For providing a psychological safety net, organizations must create a space for candid conversations where leaders feel comfortable speaking up without fear of being attacked as incompetent. Such negative effects can be reduced with constant mentoring, sponsorships, and diversity training. Great leaders are receptive to input from others. When in doubt ask: ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’
Recognize the power of perspective
Another important element worth mentioning is to understand and recognize the power of perspective. Leaders who experience impostor syndrome often think that they are the only ones feeling that way. However, in reality it is very different as practically everyone shares that same concern at many occasions. Around 70% high achieving leaders feel the same at least once during their career cycle. So if you’re feeling like an impostor, try not to feel too bad about it. Instead consider it an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that you have been making and bring forth a new perspective that others may not have thought.
Use Positive journaling
Do not allow self doubt and fuzzy memory feed your imposter syndrome. For the time being do not focus on what is going wrong or which mistakes have you made recently. That should not be the focus for people working through an imposter experience. Put aside five minutes each day to log positive activities like the good actions you had taken, the enriching people you may have met or spoke with, and the decisions you made correctly. And many psychologists have found significant emotional results derived by using positive journalism in such cases.
In short, leaders often keep vacillating between confidence, inspiration, fear, doubt and insecurities. What is important is the willingness to be real; an important component of leadership. Identify them and make it to your use in a positive way. It is perfectly fine to have a range of both assuredness and vulnerability. Human leadership is all about it. However, overcoming the fear and using it positively for gaining a competitive strength is what makes the difference.