“Fake it ‘til you make it” may be a clever turn of phrase, but no manager wants that to be the operating philosophy of one of their team members. Sadly, however, plenty of competent, talented, and respected employees feel that they are “faking it” in their roles, despite all evidence to the contrary.
What Is an “Imposter Syndrome”?
“Imposter syndrome” is an insidious form of self-doubt and insecurity that convinces someone that they don’t belong, they’re not good enough, and they don’t know what they’re doing – and it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out the truth.
Who Can Be Affected?
It is a common phenomenon that can afflict employees no matter their title, years of experience, or long list of accomplishments and accolades. But people of color, women, and those with disabilities may be particularly prone to imposter syndrome, especially if they don’t see others in their workplace like themselves. Making matters worse is social media, in which everyone displays the best, most idealized, and unblemished versions of themselves, leaving others to wonder why they don’t measure up to such perfection.
Over the years, I can’t tell you how many successful, accomplished, and driven lawyers I worked with on this issue. And of course, no one knew that they struggled with it, because on the surface they had it together.
Why Should Managers Address It?
For managers, whether you are managing associates or staff members, recognizing and addressing imposter syndrome in your team members is critical, not only for the individual employee experiencing it but also for your team’s cohesion and success overall. A team member who feels like they are out of their league may be overly timid, holding back and depriving the group of valuable insights or ideas.
Conversely, they may respond to their feelings of inadequacy by acting too forcefully or defensively with their colleagues, you, their manager, or the client.
And someone who thinks they are a fraud will be incredibly stressed, spending tons of mental and emotional energy on keeping their “secret” hidden.
No matter how it manifests itself, imposter syndrome in one team member will make its presence known by altering team dynamics, culture, and the ability to collaborate effectively.
What Can Be Done About It?
That is why managers should take this feeling, experienced by so many of us, and address it head-on. Here is how:
1. Open up
Create an opportunity to share your personal experiences with imposter syndrome and encourage others to discuss their own moments of doubt. By being vulnerable, by acknowledging your own fallibility and feelings, you can create a safe space for employees to do the same. They’ll come to understand that mistakes do not necessarily mean failure, and insecurity does not mean incompetence.
2. Create psychological safety
Similarly, foster an atmosphere where your team feels free to share their thoughts, ask questions, or seek assistance with a project or task without fear of judgment or ridicule.
3. Show your appreciation
Be generous with your compliments, as well; never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement to beat back negative thinking. Make sure that your team members know that they deserve to be there, that they have what it takes, and that you recognize their talents and commitment.
Stick with it and soon enough, you’ll expose imposter syndrome for what it is: a self-created and self-defeating impediment to individual and team success.