Feeling like a fraud? Underconfidence and the Imposter syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is a term first used in the 1970s by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. They identified a common phenomenon amongst high achievers, where despite external evidence of their competence and ability, they are convinced they are frauds who will be exposed as such! They might believe that luck or being in the right place at the right time is the only factor behind their success. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women, but it can certainly affect men too.
How many of us suffer from Imposter syndrome?
Psychological research has estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds at one time or another. One study, by Roger Jones in the Harvard Business Review, in 2015 – which surveyed over 100 CEOs and executives – revealed that the biggest fear was being found to be incompetent, and that this fear diminishes their confidence in themselves and undermines their relationships with other executives.
Isn’t being humble better than being Overconfident?
Underconfidence poses its own set of issues in the workplace. In contrast to overconfident people who are inclined to take action, underconfident people question their thinking in solving problems and dealing with situations. The bottom line is they are less inclined to back their judgment, and they may be uncomfortable in roles where they are required to make quick decisions, and this may hold them back from seeking out positions where they could make a valuable contribution to the organization.
Undoubtedly, there are a wide range of positions in the world of work that require a cautious approach to decision-making. Those types of roles will be a better fit for underconfident people. But there are also degrees of underconfidence, and the risk is that highly underconfident people may experience “analysis- paralysis” where a decision is delayed as more and more information is sought.
Is there potential for career derailing?
Underconfidence may see talented individuals fail to achieve career success by self-limiting their career choice, because of either fear of failure or fear of success. This may result in boredom and consequently, underperformance in a role, and is certainly a waste of talent from an organizational perspective.
In addition, their tendency to overthink everything means that, at times, they cannot let anything go, because they’re convinced that if they go over the details once again, they’ll finally uncover some new understanding of the situation or it will somehow change the outcome. This “analysis paralysis” can also result in them being overlooked for roles that match their intellectual potential, as they hesitate to ‘pull the trigger’ or be decisive when it is really needed.
Can Imposter syndrome be overcome?
Recognizing that Imposter syndrome exists is the first step on the path to overcoming it. Many organizations and leadership coaches run programs to help people recognize their strengths and limitations, understand that it’s ok to be imperfect and that it’s also alright to seek help from others – even the best do it.
Fears and self-limiting behaviors will always influence human beings, from the playground to the boardroom. Other factors – such as deadlines, competitor activity and economic downturns – can also create pressures on an organization’s team members and executives and impact on their decision making. But Human Resources personnel, line managers and executives need to be aware of the potential negative impacts of ignoring this very real phenomenon that may be affecting individual and organizational performance.