The impostor syndrome is a social psychology term used to describe the sense that your accomplishments or opportunities are unwarranted. Executives who struggle with the impostor syndrome sometimes feel like frauds. They believe that they’ve deceived others into thinking that they’re capable of their responsibilities and worry that they will soon be exposed.
Many executives struggle with the impostor syndrome at one time or another as they advance their careers. Ironically, it’s most common among high performers – those who actually are competent and capable of doing the job. And, while it often produces discomfort and anxiety, it can actually be useful, driving us to work harder and be more competitive in our roles.
If the impostor syndrome is disruptive to you, here are four ways to battle it:
1. Ensure that expectations are clear.
Taking on a new role, developing a new strategy, or launching a new program is exciting. The growth opportunity, autonomy, and challenge are highly rewarding, but the experience can also be anxiety-provoking. A great source of the anxiety that accompanies new opportunities is lack of clarity about what’s expected of you.
In any new or unclear situation, understand your executive team’s goals, expectations, and challenges. What is your role? What specific results are you expected to achieve? Which resources will be available to you? What is the escalation process if there is an issue? Ensure that you are armed with as much information as possible before getting started. When in doubt, ask questions!
2. Focus on your strengths.
Most of us take our strengths and talents for granted. Because they are part of who we are, we don’t often see them as special or unique. Instead, we focus on our weaknesses. This is particularly true in new situations where we feel unsure of ourselves.
When you find yourself with feelings of self-doubt, take inventory of your unique strengths and accomplishments. What differentiates you from others? This is a great way to remind yourself that you did actually earn your position. Focusing on your strengths will boost your confidence as well as shift the emphasis away from the areas where you’re not as strong.
3. Leverage your resources.
You have a highly powerful skill set, but, despite your best intentions, you can’t do everything. When the pressure is on, it can be hard to give up control or delegate to others. To successfully achieve your goals, however, you’ll need a strong team of competent and trusted professionals.
Once you know the expectations of your role and understand how your strengths align, identify others with complementary skills who can help you achieve your goals. These resources may be on your team or in other groups. Leveraging your resources will ease some of the pressure and help you compensate for areas where you’re not as strong.
4. Seek external feedback.
If you’re unsure about your performance in your role, seek immediate feedback. Don’t wait until your annual performance review or another formal opportunity to have this discussion. Ask your leadership team and trusted colleagues for their input.
Regular external feedback will help you identify issues early in the process. If there’s a problem with your approach, you can address it quickly before it escalates. Additionally, positive feedback will improve your confidence and help you feel more secure in your role.
If you’re experiencing impostor syndrome, the first step is to recognize that this is a very normal experience. Most highly successful executives have felt this way at some point during their careers. If you’re struggling, apply these four steps to address this condition. And if you still need support, contact me for help with a personalized strategy.