Tips for Leaders: 11. Imposter Syndrome

Feb 20, 2024 | Blogs

Tips for Leaders: 11. Imposter Syndrome

Feb 20, 2024 | Blogs

“I still have a little impostor syndrome… It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.” Michelle Obama

Imposter Syndrome is a pattern of thinking that makes us doubt our accomplishments and makes us fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

The term was first used by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. When the concept of Imposter Syndrome was introduced, it was originally thought to apply mostly to high-achieving women. Since then, it has been recognized as more widely experienced.

Some of the common signs of imposter syndrome include:

  • An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills,
  • Attributing your success to external factors,
  • Berating your performance,
  • Fear that you won’t live up to expectations,
  • Overachieving,
  • Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short.

Do you feel like a phony or a fraud? Do you believe you have imposter syndrome? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you agonise over the smallest mistakes or flaws in the work you complete?
  • Have you ever attributed success to good luck?
  • Do you feel as though you will be found out as a fake or phony?
  • Are you sensitive to criticism, even that which is constructive?
  • Do you downplay your expertise? Even when you are more skilled than those around you.

Imposter syndrome manifests itself in different ways. There are five main types:

  • The perfectionist: perfectionists are never satisfied and always feel that their work could be better. Rather than focus on their strengths, they tend to fixate on any flaws or mistakes. This often leads to a great deal of self-pressure and high amounts of anxiety.
  • The superhero: because these individuals feel inadequate, they feel compelled to push themselves to work as hard as possible. 
  • The expert: these individuals are always trying to learn more and are never satisfied with their level of understanding. Even though they are often highly skilled, they underrate their own expertise.
  • The natural genius: these individuals set excessively lofty goals for themselves, and then feel crushed when they don’t succeed on their first try.
  • The soloist: these people tend to be very individualistic and prefer to work alone. Self-worth often stems from their productivity, so they often reject offers of assistance. They tend to see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence. 

In his blog Ian Frost writes: ‘Having negative thoughts is perfectly natural and can actually be a healthy springboard to action. Instead of trying to eliminate imposter syndrome, it can help to know that we can go on to do powerful things in spite of it.’

He shares three ways to help us manage:

  1. ‘Collect your evidence: Find the evidence that you are qualified, that you are now this next level version of yourself. Remember, this was not luck. It is the absolute definition of hard work and time spent honing your knowledge.
  2. Visualise yourself in the new role/situation: Once you have reminded yourself that the ‘evidence’shows you have what it takes, next visualise yourself as being in role, planning the future actions you will take as though they were already happening.
  3. Talk: Firstly, talk to others. Talk to your line manager or a trusted colleague about this imposter feeling. If they’re not feeling like you are right now, they definitely have done so in the past. Opening up about how you feel can be hard, but it may be a small chink of humanity that you need right now.’

Imposter syndrome can limit your potential for growth and prevent us from pursuing new opportunities. Overcoming your imposter syndrome involves changing your mindset about your own abilities.

“The greatest obstacle for me has been the voice in my head that I call my obnoxious roommate. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom.” Arianna Huffington

This blog was written by Bretta Townend-Jowitt, Education Consultant and Trainer. 

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