Imposter Syndrome; the chances are you've heard of the term, maybe even feel like you've experienced it yourself. That nagging knot of anxiety that worries how long it'll take for your colleagues to realise that you're there by mistake. It's a nagging self-doubt that you can’t shake, shrouding your decisions and ideas. So why do we need to think about it and why should employers and managers concern themselves with the phenomenon?
Research suggests that Imposter Syndrome impacts 70% of high achieving individuals at one time or another. Women are more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome and much more likely to experience it more deeply. In an industry where women are largely underrepresented, it's vital that we recognise the signs and work to remove the self-doubt that can hinder an individual’s productivity.
From time-to-time we all find ourselves worrying that we lack knowledge in a particular field, or that a co-worker has more experience than we do. This worry is to be expected, it co-exists with the competitive nature of business. The difference with Imposter Syndrome is that the worry and doubt is completely irrational. The worry and doubt exist despite copious amounts of evidence to the contrary; the evidence of success is ignored and we convince ourselves we are falling behind. This irrational self-doubt that exists often goes on internally, and in secret. The negative impacts on an individual’s productivity can be profound.
The intense perfectionism that is created by feeling like an imposter can lead to incredibly high, unrealistic expectations. This in turn leads to a build-up of work, eventually falling behind or missing deadlines.
The worry created by setting such high standards of work can lead to procrastination. Checking Facebook or watching a YouTube video are things we can all be guilty of, but the levels of procrastination associated with Imposter Syndrome lead to individuals with missed deadlines and unfinished projects. Often the procrastination associated with Imposter Syndrome is, to a certain degree, self-imposed. The bar is set so high for an individual, they intentionally avoid a task for fear of failure.
The self-doubt and anxiety that exists within an individual with Imposter Syndrome leaves them believing that their thoughts and ideas aren’t worth sharing. As a result, these individuals can come across as unambitious and uninterested.
But still, why should managers and employers care?
Have you ever taken on an employee who absolutely smashed their interview, perhaps they presented some brilliant ideas and expressed a real drive and passion? The job was offered, they accepted but three (or six, or nine) months in, you’re sat wondering why they’ve missed yet another deadline. Why is it that they haven’t come forward with the innovative ideas that so impressed you in the first place? It’s easy to think that perhaps this person just gave a good interview, they haven’t delivered and it’s a result of a serious attitude problem or lack of engagement on their part. Whilst sometimes this may be the case, there is always a chance that this employee, that seems so uninterested and disengaged, might be quite the opposite.
Make sure you take the time to try and understand why your employees are falling behind. Often people with this irrational self-doubt don’t have the ability to speak up; admitting a struggle is equal to failing and failing which comes with illogical feelings of shame. Try and learn the signs and encourage self-reflection. We are all worthy of our successes, sometimes we just need help to see them.
...“I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.” And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.