Hiding Behind the Mask

Tackling Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

“I am a fraud!” She Screamed on the Inside. 

Tackling Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

Have you ever felt inadequate for the job at hand or like a poser among your colleagues? You’re not alone. Even people you’d assume are fearless admit to feeling insecure, including Sheryl SandbergBarbara CorcoranLady Gaga, and Bella Hadid. 

Let’s explore the phenomenon of feeling underqualified in the workplace and how to avoid letting its wrath derail your or your team’s success.

Imposter Syndrome—Not Restricted to Rookies and Newcomers

A hidden adversary often lurks unseen, whispering seeds of doubt and fear into the ears of even the most competent professionals. This spectral foe? Imposter Syndrome.

“Imposter Phenomenon”, as named by Clinical Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, means attributing failures to internal flaws and success to external factors unrelated to us (e.g., luck, fluke, timing). It’s not just about feeling behind; it’s about feeling like we don’t belong despite evidence to the contrary1

It’s a psychological phenomenon where individuals, often high-achievers and perfectionists, doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a “fraud” despite proof otherwise.

In an interview with the NY Times, ex-CEO of Starbucks, Howard Shultz, explained that most CEOs step into the role carrying the Imposter shadow, though they may be reluctant to admit it.

Recognizing the Mask

Imposter syndrome dons many masks, making it a chameleon in self-perception. It can manifest as a persistent belief that you’re not as competent as others perceive you to be, attributing your success to luck or timing rather than skill and effort. You might be over-preparing or procrastinating, caught in the cycle of fearing failure or exposure. Recognizing these patterns in yourself—or your colleagues—is the first step towards banishing the imposter from your midst.

Empathy: The First Line of Defense

Empathy, both self-directed and toward others, is a powerful antidote to imposter syndrome. People need a safe space to be vulnerable and share their feelings. As a leader or teammate, fostering this culture of support and understanding can help individuals feel more secure in their roles and achievements.

Strategies for the Individual

Acknowledge the Feelings

Accept that imposter syndrome is a shared experience, not a personal failure. Acknowledging these feelings can demystify them, making them less daunting.

Unpack Your “Shoulds”

Open your feelings to trusted colleagues, mentors, or friends. Is perfection honestly expected? You may find mistakes and even “failures” go with the territory and can be part of learning and growth.

Reframe Your Thoughts

Challenge imposter thoughts with reality. Nobody has all the answers. Replace thoughts like “I just got lucky” with “I’m skilled and worked hard to achieve this.”

Collect Positive Feedback 

Keep a personal file of positive feedback, successful projects, and accomplishments. Refer to this “success archive” when doubts creep in.

Strategies for Supporting Others

Encourage Open Conversations

Create safe spaces where team members can share their feelings and experiences with imposter syndrome without fear of negative consequences. Cultivating a learning and growth culture can, over time, create an environment of trust that supports feelings of security and confidence.

Recognize and Celebrate Achievements

Make it a habit to acknowledge and celebrate your team’s successes, big and small. Recognizing what’s working can help build confidence and a sense of belonging.

Offer Mentorship and Support

Provide guidance and support, especially to those who might be struggling. A mentor can help navigate feelings of imposter syndrome by offering perspective and advice based on their experiences.

Promote a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the view that people can develop skills and intelligence with time and effort. This perspective helps counter the fixed mindset that feeds imposter syndrome.

Stepping Through Doubts and Fear

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Dale Carnegie

Let’s consider imposter syndrome for what it truly is—a shared experience, not a measure of our worth or competence.  Imposter Syndrome affects many high-achieving individuals and understanding it can lead to greater self-awareness and growth. Whether battling your imposter syndrome or supporting a teammate, remember success isn’t the absence of fear or self-doubts but the resilience to move forward despite them.

About Equiliem

Equiliem (www.equiliem.com) believes in empowering success. It’s our job to cultivate relationships that connect people and employers in a way that is inclusive, intelligent, and allows both to thrive. 

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