High-achieving employees sometimes find themselves doubting their capabilities even though they are more than qualified.
Imposter syndrome can be defined as “a behavioral health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals.” Those who possess imposter syndrome cannot internalize their successes and subsequently feel fraudulent despite verifiable evidence that they are successful.
In order to combat imposter syndrome it can be helpful to identify how the imposter syndrome is presenting itself.
While attention to detail is important, it can become detrimental when it reaches the point of perfectionism. Individuals who strive to create flawless deliverables at all times may possess imposter syndrome. Since they doubt their intellect, they want to ensure that everything is entirely correct before finalizing anything. These individuals tend to be overly self-critical and hold themselves to higher standards than the standards they set for those around them. This pursuit of unattainable standards cannot be sustained in the long run and may ultimately lead to self-sabotaging.
This frequently presents as over-preparing for tasks to appear capable of completing them. Individuals may feel compelled to be the best at everything and that overpreparation will allow them to achieve this. Oftentimes, super-heroism leads people to overwork themselves and can cause serious mental health implications.
3. Fear of Failure
Individuals with imposter syndrome may fear being shamed if they fail to properly complete a task. They fear being exposed as an imposter in the event that they were to fail. This can lead to avoidance of certain tasks altogether because it is believed that not trying at all is favorable to underperforming.
Although fear of failure is commonly perceived to be related to externally imposed tasks, however, it can occur with self-imposed achievement-related tasks as well. Ultimately, avoidance of self-imposed tasks out of fear of failure can prevent progress toward personal career goals.
4. Denial of Capability
Discounting one's intelligence, experiences, and skills is another manifestation of imposter syndrome. People who have imposter syndrome may attribute their successes to external factors or even random chance. Even if evidence can be provided to validate their contributions, individuals may continue to discredit their influence in their achievements.
5. Fear of Success
Although contrary to the previously discussed fear of failure, imposter syndrome may lead to fear of success. This occurs because an individual perceives failure as a positive feedback mechanism. They may have difficulty recognizing their successes as success can lead to high future expectations or additional workloads.
Multiple of these characteristics of imposter syndrome can appear simultaneously and amplify the negative implications of imposter syndrome. Characteristics may present differently depending on the person and their workplace environment.
If the previously discussed characteristics of imposter syndrome are present, there are some ways to decrease the fraudulent feelings that arise.
- Focus on strengths
Imposter syndrome often leads individuals to emphasize their weaknesses. It is imperative that individuals struggling with imposter syndrome focus on their strengths as much as they are considering their weaknesses. If there is a particular area that is difficult, consider exploring a skill that feels more natural. Making a list of individual successes or even analyzing data of successful past initiatives may allow for the recognition of personal accomplishments.
2. Talk to someone
Reaching out to peers or mentors is a beneficial way to combat imposter syndrome. Having an open dialogue about doubts and struggles in the workplace can work to diminish the sense of incompetence. Groups such as horizontal mentor groups can serve as a great resource for those struggling with imposter syndrome. Peers within these horizontal groups likely have had similar experiences and can provide strategies they used to overcome their self-doubts.
Speaking with a counselor about imposter syndrome can bring awareness to what is contributing to feelings of imposter syndrome. Specifically, compassion-focused therapy can be a helpful tool in combating imposter syndrome. Compassion-focused therapy is designed for patients who are highly self-critical and works to manage those behaviors.
Most importantly, it is important to recognize that there are others who struggle with imposter syndrome. Taking active steps to counteract feelings of imposter syndrome will provide immense career benefits.
Combating imposter syndrome can also be influenced by management. Managers must recognize the impact that they can make on imposter syndrome in the workplace and take action to limit it. Although counteracting imposter syndrome is largely a personal journey, external factors may also have implications. Here are some approaches managers can take to improve the workplace experience for individuals who have imposter syndrome.
- Watch for Triggers
What provokes imposter syndrome varies on an individual basis, however, managers can take note of situations or responsibilities that contribute to employees' imposter syndrome. For example, on a team with many experienced employees, a younger team member may feel uncomfortable leading an initiative despite their qualifications. This situation may potentially contribute to imposter syndrome and a manager can help by reassuring the team member of their capabilities.
- Recognize Accomplishments
Individuals dealing with imposter syndrome may have difficulties recognizing their own achievements. As a manager, it is important to help acknowledge when employees have successes. This helps validate that they are capable and a valuable contributor to the team.
- Foster Psychological Safety
Managers should foster an environment that celebrates all individuals and that isn’t limited to solely embracing successes. Encourage employees to experiment in the workplace and do things for the sake of learning rather than only for accomplishments. Developing a strong sense of psychological safety will help ensure everyone that it is acceptable to make mistakes.
Another method to increase psychological safety while reducing feelings of imposter syndrome is to encourage open dialogue between team members. Ensuring that all team members feel comfortable discussing their experiences within the workplace with their manager is a crucial aspect of counteracting imposter syndrome.
- Be Conscious of Effects on Underrepresented Groups
Underrepresented groups may experience amplified effects from imposter syndrome. Recognize that these individuals may need additional support ensuring that there is a sense of belonging within the workplace. It is also important to be conscious of how personal biases may alter the treatment of individuals from underrepresented groups because this can contribute to their imposter syndrome characteristics.
Imposter syndrome can be very prevalent among individuals who have achieved great success. Recognize that some characteristics of imposter syndrome such as self-doubt are natural and occur among everyone on occasion. If characteristics of imposter syndrome persist for extended periods of time, it should be explored since it can limit one's ability to succeed.