How can leaders tackle employees’ imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. A study conducted in 2022 has found that seven in ten knowledge workers have experienced burnout or imposter syndrome in the last year, with more than two in five (42 per cent) experiencing both.
Those who experience imposter syndrome tend to believe that what they’ve earned was awarded to them by accident, chance, or luck. Research shows that 25% to 30% of high achievers feel imposter syndrome, and nearly 70% of adults have imposter thoughts once in their lifetime.
The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals, but to create an environment that fosters a culture of psychological safety and belonging. To build trust that will make employees feel comfortable enough to be open with their feelings, leaders need to demonstrate their commitment to providing support and ongoing opportunities for growth.
1. Have open conversations
If you suspect an employee is suffering from imposter syndrome, start by creating awareness of the signs. Unsustainable work habits, such as constantly working long hours and suffering from burnout, can be a tell-tale sign and identifying behaviours like this will give you a starting point for identifying something deeper.
Use this opportunity to have a conversation about whether you think the employee is being ambitious or compensating for imposter feelings. Discussing these ideas with them can be transformative and it can help them overcome their doubtful feelings.
If the employee truly has imposter syndrome, you can validate their concerns and say something along the lines of: “I’ve noticed you recently become quite busy with new projects at work. Is it possible that you’re feeling overwhelmed by some of these tasks?”
2. Minimise competition
Perceptions of not measuring up can cause employees to feel anxious, stressed and unproductive. Imposter feelings are deeply connected to the way individuals see themselves and the way they compare themselves to others.
As a leader, you can combat this comparative inclination by framing performance, growth, and development in more objective terms rather than by competitive rank and status. Performance feedback, whether it is formal or informal, is an excellent opportunity to dispel uncertainties about the employee’s position in the organisation. It is important to emphasise the positives and promote appreciation for individual contributions to organisational goals instead of highlighting competitive situations among peers.
3. Open up about your own insecurities
Although employees can benefit from hearing about others’ imposter feelings, those experiencing imposter feelings are hesitant to share their struggles, as they often feel stigmatised and fear that the spotlight will be on them. They often worry others might not take them seriously if they openly admit to feeling like someone who doesn’t belong. These fears are often unfounded because employees who come forward with their stories are almost always surprised by how supportive and empathetic their colleagues can be.
As a leader, normalising professional insecurities can determine employees to share their own and you can do this by sharing the ways you overcame your own challenges on your career journey. It shows that your own successes came through perseverance and hard work, which inspires others to discover their own solutions to difficulties as well.
Imposter feelings can be hard to detect, but leaders should take responsibility and help those who may be battling these feelings. Imposter syndrome can be damaging to an individual’s career and create insecurities, and as a leader, it is essential to make sure your managers are aware of the signs and help employees know that fears and self-doubt are a natural part of work life.
Employees shouldn’t feel as if they need to strive for supreme self-confidence, but rather better management of self-doubt. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering training and development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops, and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.