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30 Jun 2018

Imposter Syndrome

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Most of us have been there at one time or another. We have arrived in a great job, filled to the brim with enthusiasm and excitement. When the fanfare of introductions and induction fizzles, and we get down to the real work, we freak out. Feeling like a fraud? Wondering how you got that job? Remember when you stood like a deer in the headlights when your boss asked your opinion on something. Perhaps, fear of failure or self-imposed pressure to impress caused you to over think your response so that you delivered a mish mash of unintelligible words. Many of you will be team leaders, managers or chief executives now. Those memories of feeling inadequate or worrying that you don’t have what it takes to do the job may have disappeared, at least temporarily, into history. For some of you, they will linger for your entire career.

If you are in a management role, chances are that your newly minted graduates or newly acquired recruits, even at senior or executive levels, are feeling much the same way. They may be experiencing what is known as Imposter Syndrome. That is a strongly held, but usually erroneous, belief that, having successfully jumped all of the hurdles in a selection process, a person now does not have the knowledge or expertise to do their job well. Many people with imposter experiences are unable to take the credit for their success or achievements. Left unchecked Imposter Syndrome can deteriorate into a downward spiral of self-doubt, worry, fear, psychological distress, procrastination, perfectionism, lost productivity and burnout.

As a manager, you have a duty of care to support your new arrivals to settle in. That includes helping newcomers, and your rising stars, to get on top of their opening night nerves and to settle quickly and confidently into the rhythm of the team.

It’s a sad fact of life though, that most new arrivals keep their feelings of being an imposter under wraps.

They may:

  • not ask for help when they need it
  • delay getting projects started or never finish anything
  • overthink, endlessly question, over consult or overwork until their perfectionism drives everyone to distraction
  • fear failure so much that they run away from opportunities to step up to higher level roles.

But, they are very unlikely to say that they “feel like an imposter”.

So here’s what you can do to help your new arrivals out:

  • include a discussion about Imposter Syndrome in the induction
  • normalise Imposter Syndrome as a part of learning by sharing your own imposter experiences
  • keep an eye out for the imposter beliefs and behaviours eg not taking the credit for their achievements (saying “It was nothing. Anyone could do this.”), consistently staying back late as if to prove their worth or not being willing to be accountable, just to name a few
  • invite and encourage a discussion with newcomers about their fears and concerns
  • create an inclusive work environment to encourage them to express their opinion
  • advocate for mistakes as the foundation of discovery and invention.

Remember, that your new recruit with Imposter Syndrome is a person who is motivated towards high performance and achievement. They deserve all the encouragement you can give to help them embrace and understand their imposter fears.

Char Weeks is an executive and emerging leader coach. She is runs practical workshops that address Imposter Syndrome.

Coming up:

5 September 2018 in Melbourne CBD. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/how-did-i-get-here-beating-imposter-syndrome-tickets-46644854014

18 September 2018 in Sydney CBD. Details coming soon!

For enquiries about workshops scheduled for other cities and regional centres, please express your interest by emailing info@changechampions.com.au

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