These are questions from attendees who joined our ‘Leading with Imposter Syndrome’ webinar on 10th September; compiled and answered by Jane Welsh, Associate with Leading Figures and Consultant with The Diversity Project.

What is Imposter Syndrome and who is affected?

It would be really interesting to know roughly what the split of men/women is on the call as it is generally something more associated with women (or at least I thought it was).

The rough split of men and women on the webinar was 47% male, 53% female.  While imposter syndrome is often associated with women, and indeed the original research into it focused on high-achieving women, more recent research suggests that an equal proportion of men and women suffer from it.  During the webinar, there was some speculation that women might be more comfortable talking about it than men so perhaps that explains the difference in perceptions.

You can use this link to find out whether you are suffering from it: 

https://paulineroseclance.com/impostor_phenomenon.html

In the panel’s view, would promoting diversity and inclusion at all levels in an organisation help reduce imposter syndrome – so one can see that all types of people succeed or do you think it is inherent in a person based on personal life events.

Some of the academic research around imposter syndrome links it to inclusion and having a sense of belonging.  This would suggest that seeing people like you succeed in an organisation and working in a safe environment where failure is tolerated/accepted could reduce imposter syndrome.  Luba made the important point that she has felt imposter syndrome when she has taken on a new role.  Seeing others succeeding like you might help with that transition but perhaps there will always be a sense of imposter syndrome in these situations.

Other academic research suggests that imposter syndrome is a learned response to life events including relationships with parents.  If you have a tendency to perfectionism (trying always to please others) or neuroticism, then perhaps you will always exhibit some degree of imposter syndrome.

I wonder how much social media platforms (including LinkedIn) contribute to the comparison of our insides to other people’s outsides?

Just as young people can compare themselves unfavourably with the glossy/air-brushed social media influencers and celebrities on social media platforms, it is possible that even adults can compare themselves unfavourably with those with high profiles on LinkedIn who seem to run such successful and glamourous lives.  It is important to remember that all social media profiles are a sanitised and glamorized version of the truth.  Leaders could help by sharing their own vulnerabilities with others.

Does our need to be perfect lead to imposter syndrome?

Almost certainly.  Perfectionism is probably a learned trait – wanting to please parents/teachers etc leads to fear of failure and a sense that we aren’t quite good enough.  On the other hand, perfectionism can be a useful trait as it can encourage us to improve, try harder and keep growing professionally.  But if perfectionism leads us to avoid new challenges for fear of failure, then it can limit our potential.

At the risk of being slightly controversial, aren’t these feelings re lack of confidence, perhaps inadequacy, considered normal as we build our knowledge and progress through our careers?

The fact that an estimated 70% of people (higher amongst the attendees on the webinar) experience imposter syndrome suggests that it is a normal and possibly healthy trait.  However, the fact that there are still people who haven’t heard of it and didn’t realise that others experience it too, suggests that it isn’t necessarily ‘considered normal’.  By talking about it and normalising it, we can hope to help people manage these phases of their lives.

One attendee made the point in the chat that there is a difference between going through the normal conscious competence cycle and intrinsically feeling like you blagged your way in.  So, it goes beyond building knowledge and being able to do the job; it’s about the fear of being found out.    

What can you do to manage imposter syndrome in yourself?  And others?

Jumping ahead here, but keen to get to thoughts on supporting strategies.  Mentoring strikes me as a way to support individuals with this – does this resonate with the panel and what else has been shown to be effective in overcoming or coping with imposter syndrome?  How do you protect your mental health when you have feelings of imposter syndrome?

There appear to be a number of things that an individual can do to help themselves overcome imposter syndrome.

The first is to recognise it in themselves.  Luba mentioned that she now recognises when she is feeling imposter syndrome and reminds herself that she has worked through it successfully in the past.  The second is to talk to others about how you are feeling and get support.  Mentoring could definitely be part of this. 

Attendees on the webinar talked about meditation as a way to cope with internal conversations and any kind of mindfulness exercise is likely to help with putting things in to perspective, challenge negative self-talk and recognising the positives in a situation. This should also help with the mental health effects of imposter syndrome.

How can I support my staff with this issue?  Do you identify it in others in your interactions?  And if you do, do you take time to support them and show vulnerability to show them it is normal?

Identifying this in others is an important part of being a people manager.  Any change of job or role or responsibility could be a trigger for imposter syndrome and ensuring that your staff are supported through these transitions is very important.  If you expect them to be perfect in their new roles from day one, you may send out all the wrong messages and exacerbate the feeling of inadequacy.  Mentoring is another useful tool to support others and talking about your own imposter syndrome can help to normalise these feelings. 

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For more information please read this article on Imposter Syndrome by Jane Welsh.

You can also access a recording of our webinar on Imposter Syndrome with Marjorie Ngwenya, Executive Coach, author and Non-Executive Director, Luba Nikulina of Willis Towers Watson, and David Piltz of Buck at this link: Leading with Imposter Syndrome