Leaders Suffering From the Impostor Syndrome

“When you put on a costume, you may look like the real thing to others, but internally you know you are NOT actually that persona.” – Brigette A Cardenas, M.A., TAGT Leadership Conference 2016.

As an executive you typically don’t discuss your insecurities with others and you are supposed to demonstrate your great leadership traits. This is what you were appointed in this position for. The situation is that you feel you are an impostor for being in the leadership role you are given. You believe that somehow you’re not qualified to be a leader like your peers are. You think you are not deserving of the success you have and fear you will be “found out” for who you really are. This feeling is common for many first-time business leaders especially CEOs. You feel unprepared, untrained and not worthy to be in your position.

Have you ever felt like someone you’re not in the leadership position you are in? Accordingly, 70 percent of all successful people have experienced feelings of being an impostor at some point in their career. Understanding the impostor syndrome in leadership impacts the way you lead employees and the way you conduct business.

Leaders who have the impostor syndrome experience a lack of confidence, a feeling you are going to be found out that you are not as good as you portray yourself to be, feelings of self-doubt, comparing your leadership with others, believing you are not successful and any success you have is sheer luck, unable to accept successful accomplishments, feeling incompetent, convinced you are mediocre and unqualified to be a leader.

Surrounding yourself with statements such as “They’ll fire me”, “Everyone will laugh at me”, “I’ll be humiliated”, “They’ll think I’m a nothing”, “I should not have taken this job to begin with”, and “I’ll never work again”. These statements are others are probably swirling around in your head. They don’t need to be.

Both men and women alike struggle with the impostor syndrome. Men are more afraid to talk about it than women. Women with impostor syndrome tend to blame themselves. Men, on the other hand, accept more readily the fact that some things are beyond your control.
Suffering from the impostor syndrome you don’t see yourself the way other people see you. They think you’re on top of your game. They admire your knowledge, accomplishments and leadership qualities. Feeling you are fooling people in what you do you may think your abilities are not as good as other leaders. Having a fear of being exposed as a fraud, leaders sometimes are paralyzed with the fear of failure.

The specific behaviors common with having the impostor syndrome include:
Many people who feel like impostors grew up in families that placed a big emphasis on achievement.
• Difficulty accepting praise as being genuine (Denying praise and positive feedback as you feel people are “buttering you up”).
• Having high and unrealistic expectations of yourself
• Feeling that peers with the same responsibilities are somehow more qualified or better at their jobs
• Afraid of new responsibilities or challenges because they’re afraid of failure
• Impostor feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression.
• Feelings of inadequacy persist
• Reluctance to accept new responsibilities or challenges for fear of failure
• Self-criticizing constantly
• The impostor syndrome tends to be the domain of high achievers
• Many leaders who have the impostor syndrome are workaholics (You work longer and harder than others as compensation for not being found out).
“The biggest fear is being found to be incompetent… This fear diminishes their confidence and undermines relationships with other executives.”
-R. Jones, What CEOS are afraid of. HBR Feb 2015

“Those with Impostor Syndrome are “people who have a persistent belief in their lack of intelligence, skills or competence”– Valerie Young, Ed.D

Taking Actions to Lessen Your thoughts and Behaviors

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes
– then learn how to do it later!
– Richard Branson

Identify Patterns
Start with a self-appraisal. Ask yourself what you are good at. Be fair and unbiased about your accomplishments. Recognize the patterns you pull yourself down into and think of what coping mechanisms you can use to reduce your thinking. Don’t hold yourself to impossible, unrealistic standards. Perfection does not exist.

Keep a Notebook or Journal
Write down your accomplishments, successes without any judging or criticizing how you achieved them.

When you start to think negative about yourself, re-frame the situation you are in to be more positive.

Stop the (Negative) Self-Talk
As soon as you question your work contributions, it’s time to stop any negative self-talk.

Constant reality checks are the best way to deal with unspoken imposter thoughts.
By constantly inserting your mind with a new coping reality you automatically defuse the ability of the Imposter Syndrome to create a false one. Having an Impostor Syndrome does not have to mean you are on edge for life. You can reduce these thoughts and feelings by not thinking much about what may take place and go with the flow of your workplace.

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