Identifying and Addressing Imposter Syndrome As A Leader

Imposter Syndrome

As a leader, you’re a role model in your organization. You’re an expert in your field, a skilled manager, and a motivator for many employees. Still, you can fall victim to imposter syndrome.

But what exactly is imposter syndrome? Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It’s different from feeling nervous when you know you don’t realistically have the skills for a specific project. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who may find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many high-achievers question whether they’re deserving of accolades. It’s a battle between how you are perceived and your self-perception.

Women in leadership roles are likely to feel imposter syndrome more often than others. According to one study, 75% of women in leadership positions have experienced imposter syndrome across their professional journeys, and women of color feel it even more. One reason is that historically, women diminish their accomplishments or shrink themselves to fit into something comfortable for those around them. We’re often encouraged to be humble and not boast about achievements.

Why Imposter Syndrome Occurs

In comparing men versus women in leadership roles, men who articulate their successes are praised. In contrast, employees and leadership may view women as boastful or negative. The same characteristics that are praised in men — assertiveness, confidence, or intelligence — are often judged in women as aggressiveness, arrogance, or a lack of humility.

Furthermore, historically, masculine success defines professionalism. On the other hand, women are notorious for awaiting approval or accolades for a job well done. Women continue to be a minority in leadership positions. That is to say, imposter syndrome has deeper roots than self-esteem or perfectionist tendencies.

In a study by Harvard Business Review, women quietly moved about in the workplace for three reasons: to avoid conflict or backlash, to feel authentic at work, and to balance professional and personal demands. But unfortunately, many women feel afraid to take up space or be viewed in a negative light. Often, they choose to stifle their voices despite the positive outcome it could bring. Without the praise and encouragement from others, women have a difficult time battling the feeling of imposter syndrome.

What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?

Imposter syndrome can feel like guilt or fear. If you’re struggling with it, you may feel as though you are undeserving or not good enough for your role.

It might manifest as:

  • A sense of overwhelm from working extra hard at not being discovered as a fraud.
  • Avoiding feedback or avoiding the start or finish of a project.
  • Not participating in potential opportunities out of fear of failure.
  • Undervaluing your services because you feel unskilled or unprepared and fear pushing employers away.
  • Holding yourself to ridiculously high expectations and standards.

At its worse, you may strive for unrealistic results to counter your feelings of inadequacy. Both of which are detrimental to your mental and physical health.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome Own Your Achievements

While imposter syndrome can feel crippling at times, there are steps you can take to own your power and skills as a leader.

The first step to taking back control is retraining your brain to focus on facts rather than feelings. In addition, because imposter syndrome can show up in several different forms, learning what type you have will help you identify opportunities to step into your power.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

The Perfectionist

As a perfectionist, you may have unrealistic expectations for yourself. Because of this, you may perceive mistakes harder than others.

A classic sign of perfectionism is dismissing compliments by pointing out a flaw or flat-out rejecting them.

Instead of seeing mistakes as something negative, turn them into positives by viewing them as opportunities to grow and learn. Additionally, if you aren’t one to celebrate accomplishments, doing so may change your perspective as a leader. Start by celebrating others, but also take time to appreciate what you’ve achieved.

The Superwoman

Being a workaholic does not equal success — it equals burnout. If you identify as Superwoman, you may seek validation for the amount of work you are doing rather than the quality of your work.

A classic sign may be priding yourself on how busy you are.

Shift this by seeking internal validation for what you have already achieved because you will never feel content with the approval of others.

The Natural Genius

A natural genius may be able to work quickly and with ease. However, whenever something challenges that standard, you may feel frustrated or down on yourself.

A classic sign of this tendency is an overwhelming desire to give up whenever a new task doesn’t feel seamless or turn out perfectly straight away.

Instead of holding yourself to impossible standards, see the challenge as an opportunity to grow or build new skills. In addition, working through obstacles often provides insight for more efficient workflows.

The Soloist

Do you often find yourself wanting to do it all alone? Because they don’t want to appear incompetent, a soloist struggles to ask for help.

If you can identify with this type of imposter syndrome, remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, focus on the benefit of learning from someone else. You’ll learn how to perform that task efficiently and quickly while opening communication with colleagues and peers, which shows others how human you truly are.

The Expert

Within the scope of imposter syndrome, an expert may be motivated by a fear of not knowing enough or being viewed as inexperienced.

While striving to learn as much as possible may seem helpful in squashing your imposter syndrome, it won’t. Without addressing your insecurities, you’ll never feel satisfied with the amount of knowledge you possess.

You can overcome this by recognizing you are human, openly discussing what you do or don’t know, and mentoring others. The knowledge you currently have might be helpful to others and may, in turn, help them advance their careers.

Imposter Syndrome Is Nothing New, but You Can Overcome It

As a leader, you may have an easier time identifying imposter syndrome in others. But when it may be difficult to identify it in yourself.

If you or your team are struggling with imposter syndrome, book an appointment with me today!

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