Have you ever found yourself in a position where you had a sinking feeling that you are not good enough to do the job? You feel like you have no idea what you are doing and that one day your colleagues might discover that you are an imposter.
Whether we may know it or not, many of us have experienced imposter syndrome at some point during our professional careers. Imposter syndrome can plague even the most talented and successful people. It can appear as feelings of self-doubt, self-criticism, or comparison to others that make us feel out of place.
Imposter syndrome can be crippling, and people can experience it very differently. Though imposter syndrome is not an official diagnosis listed in the American Psychological Association, psychologists acknowledge it can be a specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Those feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety and often depression.
Most people with imposter feelings suffer in silence and do not talk about it with others. Part of the issue is that people are afraid of being exposed. Researchers estimated that up to 70% of people had experienced it at some point in their lives.
The Imposter Syndrome in Leadership
Leaders with imposter syndrome struggle with feelings of self-doubt, fear of failure, and constant comparison to other people. Frequently, leaders may feel like they have no idea what they’re doing when facing new challenges in their leadership roles. So why do capable, intelligent, and talented leaders tend to feel worthless? “In our society, there’s a huge pressure to achieve,” says Imes, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Georgia.
In many walks of life, some high achievers and executives believe they are complete frauds. Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries, a scholar, and psychoanalyst mention how this neurotic imposture is not guilty of false humility. The sense of being a fraud is the “flip side of giftedness and causes many talented, hardworking, and capable leaders to believe that they don’t deserve their success,” according to Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries.
One of the main barriers that prevent leaders from excelling is the lack of self-confidence. When leaders doubt themselves, it becomes more likely for their team to lose trust and credibility in them. When leaders experience imposter syndrome at the helm, an organization can feel its effects and far-reaching consequences.
When psychologists Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., and Pauline Rose Clance first described the imposter phenomenon in the 1970s, they thought it was unique to women. Since then, a variety of research has also revealed that men, too, can have an unenviable experience of feeling like a fraud. Fortunately, leaders can end the silence around imposter syndrome by creating a more positive, inclusive, and collaborative culture in the workplace.
Ending Imposter Syndrome in The Workplace
Employees who struggle with imposter syndrome have distorted and negative perceptions of themselves. It can affect their work productivity and performance. How can leaders step up and create an environment where imposter syndrome doesn’t exist?
Leaders can have open discussions with employees about how self-doubt accompanies success. Empowering teams enhance employees’ well-being and ensure they feel valued as people with unique talents and goals.
When employees tackle challenges, their sense of validation starts to grow. Encouraging employees to ask questions openly can create a culture of learning rather than shame. Encouraging leaders to ask questions and give feedback to their employees can ensure team morale will remain strong and help them feel the success they deserve.
Everyone experiences imposter syndrome during their careers. The key to turning it around is for leaders to cultivate a work environment where psychological safety is present. When employees feel safe to ask questions, take initiatives, and be themselves, they become empowered to achieve more.
Five Different Types of Imposter Syndrome, Which One Are You?
Many people can exhibit one or multiple forms of imposter syndrome depending on their background, personality, and circumstances. This psychological phenomenon known as imposter syndrome reflects a belief in being inadequate and incompetent despite evidence indicating you’re skilled for the job.
Dr. Valerie Young, an internationally known expert on imposter syndrome and author of an award-winning book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, has categorized the types of imposter syndrome into subgroups. She uncovered several “competence types” that people who struggle with confidence attempt to follow. It can help identify bad habits or patterns that may be holding you back from your full potential.
1. The Perfectionist
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome often go hand-in-hand. Perfectionists often set excessively high standards for themselves. When they fail to reach a goal, they frequently experience self-doubt.
Whether they realize it or not, perfectionists can feel incomplete if they cannot achieve every goal. Despite their level of success, it might never feel satisfying.
2. The Superwoman/Superman
These super-achievers often push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove themselves. Yet, such an act is just a false cover-up for their insecurities. Superwomen usually take on too much responsibility, work, and obligations.
These workaholics are addicted to the validation that comes from working and not the work itself. They feel the need to do it all. Otherwise, they are a fraud. These feelings can often lead to being stressed, overwhelmed, and unaccomplished.
3. The Natural Genius
People with this competence type believe their self-worth is how naturally they pick up on skills. Often, they view themselves as an imposter if skills do not come easily to them. These imposters set their internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionists.
Accomplishing great things involves lifelong learning and skill-building, even for the most confident people. Rather than beating yourself up when not reaching your goals, identify specific and changeable behaviors that can improve your skills over time.
4. The Expert
The experts believe that before they begin anything, they must know what and how much they can accomplish. They continuously seek new certifications or information throughout their lives to improve their knowledge. There’s always more to learn, but taken too far, and their tendency to seek out more information can be a form of procrastination. This group can continuously feel unprepared, unknowledgeable, or inexperienced.
5. The Soloist
Soloists are individuals focused on always accomplishing tasks independently. They view asking for help as a sign of weakness. Soloists believe that it’s okay to be independent, but not to the extent that they refuse service from others to prove their worth.
They often associate asking for help with feelings of shame, embarrassment, or incompetence. There should be no shame in asking for help when in need of it. Soloists value their sense of work by their level of self-determination and independence.
Acknowledging You’re Not Alone
When suffering imposter syndrome, it’s easy to think that you’re the only one who’s ever felt that way, but that’s not true. Even the most successful, influential, and accomplished women and men have been unsure of themselves at some point in their careers. Here are some former impostors in their own words.
Howard Schultz, a businessman and former chairman and CEO of Starbucks, knows what imposter syndrome is and explained, “Very few people, whether they’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
Tina Fey, an actress, comedian, writer, producer, and playwright, speaks about her struggle with imposter syndrome. In an interview with The Independent, she says, “The beauty of the imposter syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re onto me! I’m a fraud!”
Michelle Obama, the former first lady, has spoken and written about how, as a young woman, she used to lie awake at night asking herself: Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big? “Eventually, I just got tired of always worrying what everyone else thought of me, so I decided not to listen.”
Turn Imposter Syndrome Into Your Superpower
There’s a reason “fake it til you make it” is such a famous saying. Everyone goes through this phenomenon to some extent. We constantly feel like we’re out of our depths when, in reality, we may not be at all.
Researchers have discovered that what you say to yourself can change how you see yourself. If you feel like your imposter syndrome is holding you back from greatness, I advise you to uncover your unique values and strengths.
While many of us build professional experience and train for specific work skills, we also have natural forces that makeup who we are and add value to our work. I call these our “superpowers.” When you become aware of your natural strengths, write them down. Start looking for opportunities to use them at work and create more value for your employer.
Many people who experience imposter syndrome have a terrible habit of talking down on themselves. Commit to quitting this habit and start owning your role in your success by forbidding yourself from falling back on excuses. Practice saying positive affirmations out loud like, “I’m proud of what I’ve done and accomplished today.”
Find a friend or coworker and build each other up. We may not always notice and acknowledge the best in ourselves. However, our close friends and family usually do. It’s okay to share your struggles with them and ask for honest feedback.
Some people may be open to tell you that they’ve also experienced the same issue with imposter syndrome. They are keeping in mind that we’re all a work in progress.
Growing and learning aren’t shameful. In fact, it’s part of what keeps our life and careers interesting. So take the opportunity to start embracing your skills, talents, and capabilities today.