How does Imposter Syndrome affect our Business?
Five years ago Imposter Syndrome was barely given a mention and now almost every business coach will have experienced supporting someone with the condition.
What is imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is 1) the persistent lack of belief in your intelligence, skills or competencies despite the evidence to the contrary and 2) feeling that you are a fraud or pretending to be somebody you are not. In fact, if you have Imposter Syndrome you will have very likely already proved your worth unlike a fraud, who would actually cheat their way to the top. In fact, you maybe already competently doing the job that you feel an imposter in.
It is important to note that Imposter Syndrome has nothing to do with you having low self- esteem as most people with Imposter Syndrome can set and achieve goals, because they already have. This is what makes Imposter Syndrome a tricky condition to recognise.
Here are some of the common ways that Imposter Syndrome shows up. Have a look and see how many you resonate with.
- Feeling of being a fraud despite having worked hard to achieve your success.
- Fail to acknowledge your achievements and often dismiss them, fobbing them off as a fluke,
your charm or connections.
- Constantly doubt your ability to repeat past successes, always worrying that you will fail.
- Feel relieved when you succeed rather than experience the joy.
- Are a perfectionist, have high standards for others but even more so for yourself.
- Over-commit, take on too much and get overwhelmed but don’t ask for help.
- Must be an expert on everything and must get things right first time.
- Constantly feel you never know enough, chase course after course, never having enough.
- Prefer to work alone knowing that is the only way things will get properly done.
You may resonate with a few of these traits, chalking them up to your own ideo- synchronicities or may even a characteristic that you like that about yourself. However if you resonate with two or more of these statements you may be suffering with Imposter Syndrome.
Looking back, I realise that I have suffered with Imposter Syndrome for most of my adult life. I could see how many opportunities I had not taken not because I couldn’t do it but for fear that I would be seen as not good enough. The consequence was that it affected every relationship I had in my life because if you feel that you are not good enough then the way you relate to yourself, others and the world comes from mindset of a lack. So may unhelpful behavioural strategies arise for a lack mindset which have serious limitations on your health, wealth, happiness. So…
Who gets Imposter Syndrome?
Studies show that 85% of working adults sometimes will experience Impostor Syndrome and according to Bigthink, 75% of successful women experience having it. Statistically, Imposter syndrome is found more amongst women than men but these results may be skewed a little since women tend to ask for help whereas men often don’t.
In her book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It,” Valarie Young Ed.D. suggests a core concept is because women tend to base their success on what it “means about themselves” rather than on “what they do” as is often the case in men. They make it about their Identity (WHO THEY ARE) versus their Capability (AN ACTION THEY DO) and these differences can result in serious ramifications for women if not addressed.
How is Imposter Syndrome different from normal Anxiety?
In normal anxiety, anxious feelings dissipate relatively quickly moment the anxious moment has passed, this does not happen with a person suffering with Imposter Syndrome. Instead, their anxiety keeps circling around and it doesn’t lets up. Many of my clients tell me that despite ‘knowing the truth about their competencies they just can’t trust the evidence because they simply don’t feel the truth’. They have this ‘block’ that stops information going from their head to their body and vice versa. Therefore, they must constantly stay ‘on guard’ which means their anxiety-level never reduces back to baseline.
Imposter syndrome is often associated with unresolved childhood traumas, when the ‘younger self’ gets disconnected | ‘shut down’ from the rest of the body. And although we can use strategies to overcome Imposter Syndrome this is often only temporary because if, this emotional part is not supported the feeling of being an imposter will remain.
Situations that Contribute to Imposter Syndrome
- You have recently moved into a new position or venture where you haven’t yet
settled in. You don’t have past credit to rely on and you must now prove yourself all
- Work in an organisation that has a culture which feeds self-doubt, adversarial or
aggressive competitiveness, nationalism between departments. These places are
more likely to lack mentorship or support programmes that create a sense of
belonging and safety, crucial for us thriving.
- Work alone in a self-employed capacity and you don’t have anyone to encourage,
champion, give you feedback on or point out your blind spots.
- Work in a creative field which historically has been marginalised by the academic
world and so you have to prove something to them.
- Feel that you represent your entire social group i.e. traditionally woman are judged
differently from men and if they get something wrong the burden tarnishes all
women with that same brush.
Imposter Syndrome and business?
Imposter Syndrome has a profound effect on the productivity, proactivity, procrastination, innovation, career advancement and mental and physical wellbeing of all persons in your business.
Thus, to counteract these effects it is imperative to create an environment that supports people to thrive. This can be by creating nurturing an environment that encourages safety and belonging. People with Imposter Syndrome often suffer in silence and so, creating these kind of environments they are more likely to open up.
Here are some tips to help you deal with someone suffering with Imposter Syndrome.
- If someone is overly anxious or lacking self-confidence the explain to them that
even when, we ‘feel something is true’ it doesn’t mean ‘that it actually is true’.
- If praise is often dismissed be specific and attribute truthfully. Have them make a list of
their strengths and accomplishments as this makes it is more difficult to dismiss the
evidence that is in front of them.
- If they attribute their success to external sources i.e. saying it was a fluke, because of
their charm, connections then normalise. Suggest that everyone has good and bad luck
but they are having a good day primarily because they’ve earned it.
- Make sure to quickly address changes in an individual’s behaviours i.e. their
performance suddenly drops, they overrun on deadlines, start procrastinating on
easy decisions or become workaholics. They are very likely to be very fearful they
will get things wrong or fail to get it done thus, they need to develop an different
relationship with potential or actual mistakes.
- Focus on encouraging people to feel valued, supported and heard by helping them
feel that they are an important contributor to the wider system.
A final Comment:
As mentioned earlier Imposter Syndrome is a complex condition which can result in devastating life-long effects in all your relationships – with yourself, others and in the wider world context and so, in a work environment overall productivity in business. However, we can see that its effects can very easily be mitigated or even irradicated in a nourishing environment and if, business allocate resources to address these issues the future, for people suffering with Imposter Syndrome, is very hopeful.
‘Hiding in Plain Sight, No More’ is an anthology of my journey dealing with Imposter
The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome
and How to Thrive in Spite of It (2011) Valerie Young. Ed. Downloaded April 2020.
Study: 75 percent of women executives have experienced imposter syndrome (2020) Kevin
Dickinson. Big Think accessed January 2021 https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/imposter-