Whenever I go into a business to run an info-session on ditching Imposter Syndrome, there will be three types of people in the audience: those who nod so much their heads might drop off, those who sidle up to me afterwards and thank me for helping them to see what was going on for them, and those who make a beeline to tell me why there’s no such thing as Imposter Syndrome and that talking about it will damage their company.
They see Imposter Syndrome as an excuse for poor performance.
And they claim they don’t struggle with it themselves.
The further up a company’s ladder someone goes, the more likely someone is to claim they don’t have Imposter Syndrome, according to the initial results of the 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study. And the more unacceptable it is to admit it and ask for help. Yet of those who have responded to the quantitative survey so far (admittedly a self-selecting bunch), of those who claim they never get Imposter Syndrome, over 90% show clear signs of it, from their self-reported behaviour and self-talk. Yes – you read that right. 90%.
These people often see Imposter Syndrome as a form of ‘trendy self-doubt’ (yes, that phrase was thrown at me last week) that only affects people who don’t deserve to be leaders.
The Imposter-Syndrome-Self-Doubt Confusion
There’s a difference between Imposter Syndrome and self-doubt and it’s easy to get confused.
Self-doubt happens when we think our skills or experience aren’t enough for a role. It’s behaviour-focused. We can deal with self-doubt by gaining more experience and getting training or support for our skills. The self-talk that goes with it is:
“I can’t do that.”
This is a behavioural-level statement. It is the realm of positive thinking, affirmations and mindset work to help with limiting beliefs.
Imposter Syndrome is a bigger beast. And it often doesn’t come out to play its ugly game until after someone is promoted beyond their subconscious comfort zone.
It hangs around at the deeply unconscious ‘identity’ level, which mindset work and positive affirmations can’t touch:
“Who am I, to do that?”
“What if they find out I am not good enough?”
“What if they spot that I am a fraud?”
All of these are about who you are, not what you do. So you need to do the deeper identity-level work, to clear these patterns, before they cause someone to self-sabotage, without realising.
How does Imposter Syndrome hit their employer?
Here are five key behaviours triggered by Imposter Syndrome, based on the initial analysis of the research study:
- Not speaking up in meetings with great ideas
- Turning down ‘golden opportunities’
- Becoming a perfectionist micro-manager – even hyper-critical
- Stress and anxiety affecting performance
- Sabotaging projects that are outside of their safe-zone and covering their tracks
- Not asking for a promotion or pay rise they know they deserve and resenting it, often then leaving the company when others get promoted ahead of them
Many senior managers I speak to are reluctant (I’m putting that politely) to initiate the conversation about Imposter Syndrome, in case it opens the floodgates to woe-is-me drama-stories at the water cooler and emotional out-pourings in meeting.
And this is where we’ve got to stop pretending.
In this Mental Health Awareness week, people in the public eye are starting to admit that they struggle with Imposter Syndrome, and that it can lead to stress, anxiety, worrying and mental health issues.
It does this in a much more profound way than self-doubt, because Imposter Syndrome is, fundamentally, about self-judgement and deciding we are not good enough. Bottling this up, pushing on through and pretending that everything is ok is a recipe for a mental health disaster.
Talking about ‘feeling like a fraud’ needs to become as acceptable as asking for, say, time management training.
Any business saying it doesn’t care about Imposter Syndrome is actually saying it doesn’t care about its employees.
There is so much you can do to support a team member in ditching Imposter Syndrome that really there is no excuse for a company pretending it doesn’t exist. Rather than ignoring it, we need to be creating a culture where admitting to it, clearing it out and stepping up to become the leader you were born to be becomes the new normal.
And just imagine the positive effect it could have on the bottom line if no one felt the need to pretend any more.
Want to talk about how Imposter Syndrome could be hurting your business – and how to handle it? Get in touch and we can schedule a virtual coffee.