A common thread through my career and that now as a Leadership Coach is Imposter Syndrome. A recent study undertaken by the Family Business United Organisation quoted that 78% of business leaders have experienced their own version of Imposter Syndrome.
I have, in sessions with my coaches talked at length about it, I have often highlighted it as a barrier to my own progression.
So I asked the question, what is it? The academic response relates back to what psychologists call Failure Schema, as a result of your upbringing. Six of the key signs of Failure Schema are:
You believe you will fail at what you try, so avoid situations where your performance is reviewed: no work performance reviews, no doing your work in front of others, and no tests. You may even leave jobs to avoid “being found out.”
You sell yourself short, avoid promotions, and limit your ambition.
You procrastinate, which reinforces your feelings of failure, and sometimes causes you to fail.
You do poor work because you get so anxious about being judged.
Even if you succeed or become successful, you believe you will be “found out” or somehow cheated to get where you are.
Talents or achievements are “flukes” or “one-offs” but not proof of your talent, no matter how many you rack up. This is why you can’t link success to your achievements.
The study of and the root causes of, is a lengthy article for another time, but when you read these in the context of how you live your life a few I’m sure ring true, as they did with me.
What does Google say 'it' is for business leaders?
“Imposter Syndrome is a common experience among business leaders, and can be caused by a variety of factors including high achievement, perfectionism, lack of confidence, and more. It is important for leaders to acknowledge and address these feelings in order to overcome them and be confident in their abilities.”
High achievement: Leaders who have achieved great success may feel that their success was a fluke, and that they do not truly deserve it.
Perfectionism: The pressure to always be perfect can lead to a belief that they are not good enough, especially when they make mistakes.
Lack of confidence: Some leaders may lack confidence in their abilities or the skills required for the role.
Comparison to others: Comparing oneself to others who seem to have more experience, skills, or success can contribute to feelings of inadequacy.
Unfamiliar territory: When leaders take on new responsibilities or projects that are outside of their comfort zone, they may feel like they are not capable of fulfilling them.
Unsupportive environment: A work environment that is unsupportive, competitive, or critical can lead leaders to feel like they are not good enough.
Impression management: The pressure to maintain a certain image and reputation can lead leaders to feel like they are not living up to their own expectations.
External validation: Leaders who rely too heavily on external validation and approval may feel like they are not truly successful unless they receive recognition from others.
Early success: Leaders who achieved early success may feel like they are not capable of maintaining their success and that they will eventually be exposed as a fraud.
Lack of mentorship: Leaders who lack mentorship or support may feel like they are not equipped to handle their responsibilities.
Not all Leaders experience all of these, it might be just 1 or 2, or a variation of a few. But when questioned during coaching sessions, I can often hear comparisons to those in the list above.
The good news comes in two parts, part One is:
We are not alone, imagine feeling like you're an imposter among the likes of Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Karen Brady, Mary Portas and the list goes on. These highly successful business leaders have all publicly shared their struggles with imposter syndrome, proving that even the biggest names in the game can suffer from self-doubt.
The second part is:
Help is out there, working with a coach and mentor can help you to identify the source of your Imposter Syndrome and help work with you on the confidence to remove any barriers that might be affecting your performance.