It’s estimated that over 70% of people have experienced Imposter Syndrome at one time or another. This phenomenon gives rise to people being unable to view their accomplishments objectively, putting them down to good luck, even better timing or simply having tricked others into a web of deception whereby they are perceived as more competent and intelligent than they really are. Psychologically, it’s extremely damaging, and when it occurs to CEOs of rapid-growth companies, it can also affect the bottom line.
First rate fraudsters
CEOs of fast-growth companies which have succeeded through organic growth or merging with another company are at risk of feeling like fraudsters. They are not alone. Such stellar ‘A-listers’ as Hollywood’s Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and even the venerable Meryl Streep have all admitted to feelings of inadequacy, of being ‘found out’ and of crippling self-doubt.
Entrepreneurs can be particularly affected by the syndrome, despite their apparent success. Even in the face of all the evidence – a thriving business, a successful profile and a rewarding lifestyle – they can still convince themselves that they’re not worthy and that they do not deserve the plaudits which they receive for their success. Worryingly, these feelings can not only affect the performance of their business, it can also lead to an increased susceptibility to depression, low self-esteem and relationship problems – both at home and at work.
The psychological causes of imposter syndrome have been attributed to the phenomenon of self-presentation (where people behave in a way which they think is expected of them to achieve a favourable response) which may have its origins in our childhoods. The cultural tendencies which suggest that weakness or displays of emotion are negative traits may have much to do with how we internalise the expectations of society. Patterns established by others in our early lives, such as the withholding of praise or, at the other end of the scale, lavishing praise on mediocre performance, can lead to adults who feel they can never prove their worth but who must try continuously to do so.
Dealing with the imposter inside
Like Wizard of Oz Syndrome and negative CEO characteristics Imposter Syndrome can be overcome. In order to avoid being overtaken by feelings of self-doubt it’s important that the person recognises that it’s OK to feel like that and that it’s totally normal. Talking to a mentor or coach whom they respect can provide a reality check, and help them to acknowledge their feelings and avoid being overwhelmed by them.
It’s also important for them to be brave enough to acknowledge the achievements which are a direct consequence of their own hard work – keeping mementos of success, even if these are small things such as a thank you card from a client, close to hand can work well to remind them of all they have achieved. Striving for perfection and feeling inadequate because it’s simply not attainable is also to be avoided – these feelings need to be curtailed and grounded in the reality that nobody is perfect, despite the aura that some other people cultivate.
Imposter syndrome can strike at any time but doesn’t have to stay. Like an unwanted guest it can be shown the door to make way for acceptance of self-worth and a welcoming of inner value.
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