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Imposter syndrome- Secret fears of High Achievers

“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out”.- Maya Angelou.

Self-doubt. Anxiety. Not feeling like you are good enough. Feeling like you will be found out, like a fraud.

These are all symptoms of Imposter Syndrome.

Having recently returned from furlough, I wanted to discuss something I feel is very important- ‘Imposter Syndrome’. Having found ourselves in extenuating circumstances for the last 6 months, and whatever your personal circumstances might be, being aware of what might be happening and how best to deal with these new feelings should they be negative, may well help in some way.

It is quite possible that like me you did not know too much about this, but what is Imposter Syndrome and why is it important to discuss now?

Women vs Men

Imposter syndrome itself is nothing new. It was identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They initially believed it only affected women, but research since has shown men are also affected. However, women tend to be more susceptible because they produce less testosterone- the confidence hormone. According to leadership consultant Clare Josa, men are more likely to push through the syndrome while women tend to give in to their self-doubt.

Well-known and respected figures such as Michelle Obama, actress Olivia Coleman and literary legend Maya Angelou have all spoken about their personal struggles and experiences of ‘being found out’, ‘like a fraud’ and that you ‘aren’t good enough’- truly experiencing crippling self-doubt. It is estimated that within the last 12 months, up to 70% of women would have experienced this feeling, and at a time of national crisis, it is important we acknowledge and deal with these feelings.

Why is this important now?

Having recently participated in a Webinar hosted by Total Jobs, Dr Terri Simpkin and Kate Atkin talked about Imposter Syndrome in the workplace. It is estimated that 68% of Senior Managers and 78% of Junior managers experience Imposter Phenomenon. During these times, and due to COVID-19, 3/10 will experience symptoms, and 71% of staff that have been made redundant or furloughed will experience Imposter Syndrome. It is so important that businesses are aware of this and how to manage the symptoms moving forward.

To support your team, you can:

  • Define imposter syndrome
  • Objectively recognise personal strengths
  • Promote Mentor programmes
  • Consider individual needs

In a working context, sufferers may feel compelled to be ‘always on,’ leaping from one conference call to another without taking breaks and working long hours - up to seven days a week. This is driven by their fear of being found out, they are over-compensating for shortcomings only they perceive. It is important to note that most of the time, these people feel confident and capableIt is not low self-esteem or inadequacy – they're star players and very good at their job. At just the time when key individuals are needed the most, they are going through their own personal crises. Psychologically and physically, they are putting themselves in harm’s way.

HR Zone, the online HR publication have the following advice:

  1. Nobody is perfect, and there are no perfect answers to the current crisis – all we can do is our best and rely on our friends and colleagues to help.
  2. Get more support such as a coach, mentor, or counsellor – impostor syndrome is triggered by a combination of high challenge and low support.
  3. Some people appear better at ‘keeping calm and carrying on’, but no one has all the answers.
  4. Don’t let working from home be an enabler for isolation, take time out of your day to ‘check in’ with friends. If you need some help, ask for it – we are all relying on each other to get through this.
  5. We are all going to make mistakes – even our leaders are not infallible. The important thing is to view our mistakes as a learning experience.

Try the following:

  1. Assess whether you are a possible sufferer – do you recognise any of the symptoms above in yourself?
  2. Manage your stress – there is lots of information about how to do this, find the one(s) that work for you.
  3. Reframe your beliefs – your worth is far more than your last achievement (or your next) – we are all human, we all make mistakes, we all have moments of glory – try to ‘own it!’
  4. Change plan – take on one thing at a time and try to improve it. Don’t set impossible goals.

In summary, a quote by Michelle Obama:

I still have a little impostor syndrome… It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

If you are interested in hearing more and seeing more content, please visit our Professional Services team page here:

Oakleaf HR Professional Services page

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