Feel Like a Fraud? The Reality of Imposter Syndrome
July 7, 2020
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Outwardly, he or she is a valued employee who has demonstrated a talent for leadership, project management or other skills essential for a company’s success. Despite many achievements and a spotless work track record, he or she may not achieve their full potential on the job. Internally, a lack of self-confidence and a conviction that he or she is not as knowledgeable as others would convince this individual that they are undeserving of any professional success or accolades. 

This worker is suffering from imposter syndrome, which denotes a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.

The phenomenon was discovered in the 1970s and is common across all industries, according to research from the International Journal of Behavioral Science.  The term was first coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, who were looking for a better explanation as to why high achieving women often attributed their success to luck rather than accomplishment. The term now applies to both male and female achievers who are psychologically uncomfortable with acknowledging their role in their success. 

About 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives and can be expressed as insecurity about abilities, second-guessing decisions and fear of taking on new challenges. Success is chalked up to luck or good timing instead of intelligence or competence, affecting men and women in equal numbers. Discover if this description fits you by taking a self-test devised to help identify people with the syndrome.

Impostor syndrome shows up consistently across genders and ages, but it is exacerbated by workplaces that thrive on competition and comparison, have poorly developed communication channels and unclear expectations, and lack diversity and mentorship which can reinforce a sense of isolation. 

The American Psychological Association offers tips to overcome imposter syndrome, including maintaining a dialog with mentors, acknowledging one’s own skills and accomplishments and accepting the fact that no one is perfect.  When sizing up a difficult project, try to think of it as an opportunity for growth. When encountering a difficult problem or task, ask for help or clarification. 

Managers and others in leadership positions are advised to foster a positive psychological environment with open discussions about how self-doubt accompanies success. Shift away from the all-work-no-play paradigm by modeling effective stress management and self-compassion, and by emphasizing that one cannot do it all, and that is okay. 

Leaders can also reinforce the process a team member used instead of praising intelligence or talent, and by celebrating incremental progress to boost morale and help people internalize success and build self-esteem. Empowering teams through the use of feedback ensure expectations are understood, which helps reduce unnecessary self-doubt among individual contributors.

As it turns out, having imposter syndrome can have some beneficial aspects. People with imposter syndrome tend to be perfectionists, which means they are highly motivated and more likely to spend extra hours working to make sure they excel at every opportunity. If you do suffer from imposter syndrome, it is likely you are doing a pretty good job.

By Sue Himmelstein

Article Sponsored by Digi-Key Electronics

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