‘Imposter Syndrome’ (also known as Fraud Syndrome) is a psychological condition in which an individual lacks confidence in their abilities, endeavours and accomplishments and suffers from an internal fear of being ‘found out’ and exposed as a ‘fraud’. The individual develops a belief that they may have misrepresented themselves at some point over the course of their journey to where they are. It can give rise to crippling feelings of self-doubt that can seriously hinder the leader’s performance and development.
Imposter syndrome sufferers fear that someone will eventually realise that they weren’t in fact the correct choice for this job or project. Imposter syndrome is experienced by men and women and by people at all levels of their career, even right at the top. They attribute promotion to luck or good timing and in their mind it is only a matter of time before they are exposed as incompetent or as a fraud.
Failure to address feelings of self-doubt in leaders can result in such complications as:
- Potentially damaging reactions and behaviours in response to criticism
- A reluctance to accept new challenges and responsibilities
- Higher levels of anxiety, stress, unhappiness and dissatisfaction
- Reduced energy and motivation
- Hesitating and taking too much time over important, urgent decisions
- A reluctance to seek or accept opportunities to move further up the ladder
- Downplaying one’s abilities, skills and accomplishments
- Failing to offer adequate support and development opportunities to team members
Here are some coping strategies to help leaders combat imposter syndrome:
- Accept the fact that no one is perfect, including you
Great leaders are humble leaders and know that perfection is merely an illusion. Flawlessness is an unrealistic aspiration. Great leaders understand that asking for help is a crucial part of the leadership journey and they don’t allow their ego to stand in the way of seeking the help they need. Successful leaders are not afraid to make mistakes; they learn from them and use this valuable knowledge to grow and develop further. Leaders who expect perfection of themselves often expect it from others too, which can have a negative impact on team performance and morale.
- Acknowledge your strengths, embrace your weaknesses
Key to being a successful leader is to know yourself, especially your particular strengths and qualities, and then use these gifts to positively influence others. Good leaders understand how their actions and approach affect their relationships with others. It’s equally important that leaders acknowledge their weaknesses and work to improve them, or team up with people who have complementary strengths. Committing to your personal and professional development can help to gradually melt away those feelings of fear and self-doubt.
- Envisage success
Visualising successful future outcomes can reduce feelings of pressure and cultivate a sense of hope and excitement. Leaders have a responsibility to set clear direction, define objectives and goals and to communicate them in ways that engage and inspire. Clarity, effective planning and future-oriented thinking will help to restore feelings of optimism and confidence.
- Break the silence and remember you are not alone
All leaders struggle with feelings of inadequacy. A crucial tactic for battling imposter syndrome is acknowledging your fears and talking with others about them, whether colleagues, therapists, friends or family. Not being open about your fears could pose a serious hindrance to your growth and health. Openly acknowledging these feelings can be a liberating process that empowers leaders to move forward in their careers.
- Acknowledge the facts and be kind to yourself
Measure and monitor the facts of your achievement: specific ways in which you have positively impacted the business, your department and your team members. You cannot always depend on praise from others, but you can measure your progress, take note of your achievements, and focus on the positive outcomes your efforts have generated. To be where you are today means you have probably accomplished great things, and you are entitled to take credit where it is due.
- Fake it until you make it
Do your best to emit confidence and authority to give others the impression that you are competent even if deep down you are still working on building towards this. Observe others whose level of confidence and success inspires you and imitate their behaviour. Notice how other high-achievers handle challenging situations and how they influence and inspire others. Acknowledge the fact that they too have struggled with and overcome feelings of inadequacy.
Remember, you are where you are today because of your hard work, determination and ability to persevere even when times are tough. You were chosen because of your merits and not luck. Implementing the advice above will help you to combat the imposter syndrome and continue to deliver extraordinary results.
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