Explore what Imposter Syndrome is, what causes it, and strategies you can use to overcome it.
There are a range of perspectives about imposter syndrome including research and theories about the characteristics, symptoms, causes and strategies to manage behaviors and thoughts.
- Explore what Imposter Syndrome is, what causes it, and strategies you can use to overcome it.
- Today we will:
- So who is this for:
- What is Imposter syndrome?
- Just because you doubt your abilities doesn’t mean that you’re suffering from impostor syndrome.
- Let’s try an exercise and Imagine yourself in this situation……
- Types of imposter syndrome:
- Who experiences imposter syndrome?
Today we will:
- Explore what imposter syndrome is
- How to overcome it
- Learn how to tackle feelings of inadequacy
- Identify and address negative thought and behavior patterns
- How to develop your own leadership style
- Learn how to communicate change and transformation
- Know and understand effective leadership skills
- Demonstrate good judgment
- Learn to act on critical reflection of effective practice and integrity
- Learn how to transition to leadership
So who is this for:
- This is for anyone who is a leader or wants to lead.
- Anyone who feels inadequate
- Anyone who is transitioning from a corporate job to business owner
- Someone who is trying to establish an authority role or figure
- Anyone that has anxiety or feels pressured when making decisions
When transitioning from any position into another one of authority, it’s normal to feel these types of inadequacy, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you feel out of your element. For most of us it just takes a little time and practice in our new roles before this feeling will go away. All you’re really experiencing is inexperience and unfamiliarity and that reduces your confidence in becoming the leader you and I both know you can be. By answering the poll below you will be contributing to a larger part of the research done on imposter syndrome if you’d like to participate your feedback is important.
What is Imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is also called Imposter Phenomenon, or Fraud Syndrome and is a term to describe the psychological experience of feelings like you don’t deserve your success. It’s just “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness”. If you say things like “I got lucky” or “I don’t belong here” or even “I’m a fraud, and it’s just a matter of time before they find out” You may be experiencing Imposter Syndrome. Most of us have experienced feelings of doubt and unworthiness at some point in our professional and personal lives. Although it can affect anyone, research has shown high-achieving individuals experience it often. Research has also shown that less than half of men thought that imposter syndrome affected their personal lives, whereas more than 73 percent of women thought it did.
First introduced in 1978 in an article written by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, they described the phenomenon as: “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness”
At the time, their research focused on women in higher education and professional industries. This syndrome is essentially our subconscious way of saying to yourself and others that “I am not enough” or “I am unworthy”. You feel you are undeserving of awards, accolades, and recognition you’ve received. Along with these feelings, you may carry guilt that you are deceiving others into thinking you are more competent than you believe yourself to be and fear that someone will eventually find you out and expose you. These moments of doubt pose a barrier for individuals to achieve their full potential.
Maybe you can you relate to some or all of these common imposter beliefs and behaviours: Make a note of the ones that resonate with you. We will explore ways in which you can overcome imposter syndrome.
- feeling like you’re a fraud and that it’s only a matter of time before you’re ‘found out’
- feeling you’re not ready, worthy or in some way ‘good enough’
- suffering from unhealthy levels of self-doubt, self-criticism or self-judgement
- feeling exhausted by any/all of the Deadly P’s: Perfecting, Pleasing, Proving, Performing, Pretending and Procrastinating
- undervaluing your talents and downplaying or belittling your accomplishments
- holding back in meetings, not expressing your opinions or sharing your knowledge
- passing up opportunities and staying ‘safe’ in roles for which you are over-qualified or have outgrown
- being haunted by subtle feelings that you don’t belong in your role, your team or your organisation
Just because you doubt your abilities doesn’t mean that you’re suffering from impostor syndrome.
Sometimes, you really will be out of your depth! In these instances, it’s important to be honest and seek help from your manager or others.
Next we will explore the cycle of imposter syndrome and how we can get caught up in a dangerous loop of self-talk and thinking.
The imposter cycle describes a pattern of behaviour commonly experienced by individuals, especially those who move into new roles or commitments. Proposed by Pauline Clance in 1985 the model provides a visual representation of the thought processes and feelings at particular points when an individual is provided with an achievement-related task. You begin to have feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt, and that you have tricked your organisation to employ you. Each time you are given a new task, the struggle is internal, and you feel that no matter how hard you work, you end up in the same spot.
Let’s breakdown each step of the cycle, using the workplace as an example. Although, you can get caught in the cycle in any situation in your professional or personal life. Just a brief exercise to see where you stand on things…
Let’s try an exercise and Imagine yourself in this situation……
I want you to imagine your supervisor has come to you with a task they would like you to complete by the end of the month. It’s a report on the latest costings for a new product that is being developed. As the task and expectations are explained to you, your mind starts to kick in with anxiety, self-doubt and worry. “I’ve never done this before”, “Why are they asking me to do it?”… all the while you are outwardly displaying confidence. You supervisor then leaves you to it, and inside you are starting to experience heightened levels of anxiousness. At this point of the cycle, you might either procrastinate or over-prepare to the point of stress.
Once you have completed the task, meeting set deadlines and expectations, you experience a feeling of relief and your supervisor provides you with positive feedback on the results. You discount the feedback and attribute it to high effort (over-preparation) or just luck (with procrastination).
This then leads to sustained feelings of perceived fraudulence, self-doubt, depression or anxiety. “Phew, I can’t believe they liked the report”. “I got away with that one”. “I got lucky that time”. There is a spike in these feelings of fraud.
The cycle continues to loop over and over, and you may find yourself feeling trapped. Essentially, any challenge will cause someone with imposter syndrome to freak out, setting off the cycle of worry and self-doubt. To cope, they fall into either a pattern of procrastination or perfectionism or toggle between the two.
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome often feed off each other. In the workplace, it can manifest itself as over-working or over-preparing in a constant effort to achieve the unachievable goals set. When the individual fails to reach the goals, feelings of self-doubt and worry rise within themselves. Self-talk continues to be “I knew I wasn’t capable of doing it.” “I don’t have the skills or qualifications to take on this task”. “I don’t know why they gave that task to me”. A self-fulfilling prophecy.
How did you feel when you were given a task that you believed should be given to someone else?
How did you approach the task?
What was the outcome?
Which camp did you fall into? Perfectionist or procrastination – or juggle between the two?
Did you feel as if you weren’t suitably qualified for the job or have the skills to do it?
It’s important to note, continuing to be caught in the cycle can affect the following:
- work performance
- taking on responsibilities (either at work or in your personal life)
- attributing success to outside factors
- avoiding seeking promotion
- job dissatisfaction and burnout
Types of imposter syndrome:
Perfectionist: Set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail, they experience self-doubt and worry about measuring up. This group can also be “control freaks” which may not sit well with some, however, perfectionists feel like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves.
- Have you been accused of being a micromanager?
- Do you have difficulty delegating?
- Even when able to do so, do you feel frustrated by the results?
- When you miss something, do you accuse yourself or think that you are “not cut out” for your job/role and go over and over it in your head for days?
The Expert: measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know how to do something. They believe they will never know enough and fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. It’s true, there’s always more to learn, however this can be taken too far.
- Do you shy away from applying for jobs unless you meet every single requirement?
- Are you constantly looking to do courses or certifications because you think you need these to improve your skills to succeed?
- Even though you’ve been in your role for a long time, do you still feel as though you don’t know “enough”?
- Do you feel embarrassed when someone calls you an “expert”?
The Soloist: asking for help reveals their phoniness. It is ok to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance just to prove your worth. There is no shame in asking for help.
- Do you firmly believe that you need to accomplish things on your own?
- “I don’t need anyone’s help.” Does that sound like you?
- Do you frame requests in terms of the project rather than your need?
Natural Genius: judge their competence based on ease and speed rather than their efforts. If they take a long time to master something, they feel shame. Set their internal bar impossibly high (similar to perfectionists). They judge themselves on being able to achieve something the first time. They should see themselves as a work in progress.
- Are you used to excelling without much effort?
- Do you have a track record of straight ‘As’ or gold stars in everything you do?
- When you’re faced with a setback, does your confidence tumble?
- Do you often avoid challenges?
The Superperson: convinced they’re phonies amongst real-deal colleagues and often push themselves to work harder and harder. This is considered a false cover-up for their insecurities and the work overload may harm not only mental health, but relationships with others.
- Do you stay later at the office than the rest of your team?
- Do you get stressed when you’re not working and find downtime completely wasteful?
- Have you left hobbies and passions – sacrificed to work?
The core reason that people experience imposter syndrome is really due to our unrealistic, unstainable notions about what it means to be competent. Reflect on the ones that resonate the most to you and don’t forget to leave us a comment and your experience with imposter syndrome.
Who experiences imposter syndrome?
The short answer is everyone. Even all the famous and well known leaders have confessed to feelings of self-doubt, fear and inadequacy.
Albert Einstein, Penelope Cruz, Agatha Christie, Michelle Obama
Have you felt these emotions as a leader? If so, you are in good company!
Consider and write down your thoughts on the following questions.
- Would you have thought these people would have experienced insecurities or felt like they didn’t deserve their success?
- Why do you think high achievers are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome?
- What would you say to someone who you admired who confessed that they felt like a fraud?
Leadership theory could exhaust a lifetime of study. It is more important to consider the impact of imposter syndrome on leadership styles and vice versa.
For those in a leadership position or aspiring to be a leader, at some point you will come up against a situation and think “I don’t know what to do”. It may be a team issue that you can’t seem to solve, or maybe you need to lead a project which lies outside of your field of expertise. Whilst imposter syndrome feels uncomfortable and unpleasant, it’s not the real problem. The problem occurs when feelings of self-doubt and insecurity causes you to stop trying, to back off or to quit.
As a leader, when you stop believing in yourself, start second guessing your decisions, stay quiet or take a back seat it can potentially limit your leadership pipeline or produce an underperforming team.
When leaders appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of a practiced leadership style, they develop greater awareness of their abilities, values and beliefs, as well as greater understanding of how they are perceived by team members. The understanding and practice of a leadership style creates a personal leadership framework that can be further developed, extended and refined through everyday workplace leadership experiences.
Leaders also need to consider how compatible their fundamental leadership style is with their organisation. If the styles are clearly incompatible (e.g. a servant leader in an autocratic, command-and-control, hierarchical organisation) effective leadership will be difficult. Therefore, the same leader may be very welcome and successful in one organisation, and struggle and possibly fail in another.
If you are currently in a leadership position (paid or voluntary), reflect on your current self-talk and self-belief. Take a step back from those you are leading, try and observe how the team is functioning. What impact are your thoughts, feelings, beliefs having on their performance, as a team and individually? What is the impact on you as a leader?
If you are not in a leadership position (paid or voluntary), is there an opportunity for you to undertake this type of role? What might be stopping you from seeking this opportunity? What is your current self-talk or belief?
How do you know if you have it?
You may have already recognised some elements of the syndrome in yourself as you explored the videos and content. It’s not simply the feeling of insecurity and self-doubt which most of us have felt at some point in our lives, but is a pattern of an inability to internalise success. As you’ve already discovered, it isn’t uncommon and 70% of people have experienced it at some time or other.
So, how do you know if you are experiencing imposter syndrome? You have already spent sometime asking yourself questions, particularly related to type, however, this section provides you with a number of resources to access which will provide further insight and guidance for you.
- do you attribute your success to luck or external factors?
- are you sensitive to criticism of any kind?
- do you apologise over even the smallest mistake?
- do you downplay your expertise even when you are truly the expert?
- do you feel like someone is watching you and will call you out as a phony?
You need to become comfortable confronting some of the deeply ingrained beliefs you hold about yourself. This can be hard, because you may not even realise you hold them. Overcoming imposter syndrome requires self-acceptance; you don’t have to attain perfection to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved and any accolades you earn along the way. It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level that doesn’t leave you forever overreaching and feeling inadequate.
Think of a time when you may have had some of the feelings associated with imposter syndrome. Consider and write down some thoughts in response to the following questions:
- What were the thoughts associated with the feelings?
- Are these thoughts valid? What is the evidence?
- What would an alternative thought be?
Causes and symptoms of imposter syndrome.
We know that certain factors can contribute to the more general experience of imposter syndrome.
Across the board, it’s more common when trying something new or feeling the pressure to succeed. Those who suffer from imposter syndrome often have similar personality traits, including an external locus of control. This means they believe their accomplishments to be attributed to external factors such as luck or timing rather than the hard work they put in or their expertise. At work, people often experience acute imposter syndrome when given praise or reward.
Generally though, the emotions associated with the syndrome are internalised within the individual, rather than shared with others.
Early family dynamics – pressuring you to do well in school, praising you only when you do something good, comparing you to siblings or other children, overemphasizing your natural talents and shaming you when you struggle, or being over protective (helicopter parents) and instilling fear.
School and work experiences – Past stories of success and failure can affect how you see yourself and how you feel about taking on new projects and assignments.
Cultural pressures – We live in a culture of “-est”. That is we admire the biggest, prettiest, richest, fastest etc. We learn to measure success and ultimately worth through external factors including dollars, awards, number of likes on social media. In this environment it’s easy to judge ourselves.
Engaging in something new – we can be creatures of habit and comfort and it can be challenging when you start something new. Imposter syndrome can show up when you’re trying something you’ve never done before.
Write down and share your ideas about the following aspects:
“What core beliefs do I hold about myself?”
“Do I believe I am worthy enough?”
“Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?”
Reflect on the following:
Do elements or all of the characteristics of imposter syndrome sound familiar to you?
Are you surprised about some of the information presented?