Around 70% of people will experience ‘impostor’ feelings at some point in their career. The impostor phenomenon – also known as impostor syndrome – is associated with several adverse outcomes in the workplace, including lost opportunities, talent mismanagement and poor mental well-being. By understanding the impostor phenomenon and how to manage it, employers can help reduce its impact and enhance their inclusive practice.
A dictionary definition of the impostor phenomenon says it Is characterized by “doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence of one’s ongoing success”. But, in fact, it is an intense feeling of intellectual phoniness, despite successes, and not a real impostor (a false identity or title for the purpose of deception).
The impostor phenomenon can prevent individuals recognizing their knowledge, skills, and capabilities, and can stop them putting themselves forward for promotion or new tasks. This has a huge impact in the organization they work for, so it is important for business leaders to recognize the signs – but, more importantly, it is vital for them to support those who are experiencing it.
This article will equip business leaders with a 5-point plan to tackle the issue of impostor phenomenon by creating a more inclusive workplace.
1. Enable people to recognize their impostor chatter and to call it out
Creating a safe psychological environment where the calling out of impostor chatter is encouraged is the first step along the way to tackling the issue. It’s important for business leaders to help their employees identify their strengths, increase their confidence, and create a platform for people to feel safe and comfortable to say what they have done positively.
Companies need to create a place where positive feedback is the same as ‘developmental’ feedback, and where discussions around strengths used at work are common. Also, increasing supportive relationships where employees feel valued and heard will help reduce the impact of impostor chatter and decrease self-doubt.
2. Create a culture of inclusion
Organizations must create a space where people feel safe and comfortable speaking up without the fear of being called out or being seen as incompetent. To make an inclusive environment, start by:
- Explicit expectations – during meetings, ensure that managers explicitly set expectations and communicate that everyone can contribute equally and that behavioural expectations are clear.
- Interrupt interruptions – make sure that, as a leader, you stop anyone from being silent. You must set an expectation that everyone’s voice is needed, important, and valued, and encourage individuals to speak up for others.
- Focus on solutions – never blame individuals when things go wrong. Instead, see these as moments of growth, learning, and evolution.
3. Implement and promote services such as mentoring, coaching, and counseling
Leaders must implement and promote services such as mentoring, coaching, and counseling – and show individuals where they can get the support they need.
Mentorship programs, for example, are helpful as they provide guidance and support to succeed. Individuals have someone they can go to in times of doubt, who will be able to guide them through their challenging period and, once they conquer it, their confidence will increase.
Having counseling services available also allows individuals to use them when they need them the most – and makes them feel that their company is investing in their well-being.
4. Educate and inform people about the impostor phenomenon
Leaders should provide resources for their teams to increase their knowledge and understanding of the impostor phenomenon and how they can help those experiencing it.
Organizations can run courses and awareness weeks and put up posters around the office highlighting the impostor phenomenon – while making sure, at the same time, that individuals can find out more privately. Some individuals feel a sense of shame, so it’s important they are able to seek help privately.
5. Be you – a human being
A great leader understands that having great well-being is key to high performance, and they must encourage and empower their teams to do the same.
Therefore, it is crucial for your team members to feel heard, valued, and understood. In addition, leaders must show empathy and self-compassion. In turn, your team will thrive and become more productive and efficient.
Leaders should encourage their teams to take holidays and breaks to rest. Delegate more and ask for help when needed. This is turn helps individuals who are experiencing the impostor phenomenon to know that it’s ok to ask for help, and they are not incompetent in doing so.
Organizations must recognize and celebrate all different individuals’ different working styles, and create an environment where everyone who can excel can achieve their potential.