We are constantly asking and being asked where the leaders of tomorrow are? Why are the same chairs being filled by the same people? Why are there so few women in senior leadership positions? What is this “glass ceiling” and why is it still seemingly so hard to break though? It is fair to say that there have historically been barriers, especially towards women but in this new world why are we asking the same questions? Is it the lack of opportunity or business culture causing this or could a contributing factor be something much more psychologically sinister?
Could it be that high performing individuals are holding themselves back because they feel like they are impostors?
The Impostor Syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. It describes high achieving individuals who feel unable to internalise their accomplishments, have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud” and remain convinced that they do not deserve the success they have achieved despite all the evidence of their competence. Proof of their success is simply dismissed as being lucky, being in the right place at the right time, or simply as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe they actually are.
This syndrome is not only evident in women although it is more common and can take various forms.
People feeling like an “impostor” are often perfectionists who discount praise or exhibit a constant fear of failure, may feel they need to work three times as hard as their counterparts or over-prepare, tinker and they obsess over every detail – this can lead to burn out and stress. This is not a new phenomenon, many have had that moment where they feel that they will be “found out” and that the stack of cards is going to come crashing to the floor. Perhaps it is more noticeable today? Historically many would simply keep going regardless of feelings of doubt or insecurity – could we call it blind confidence? Today the feeling of being an impostor seems to be far more debilitating and used as a rational tool to limit ones achievements and success.
Why? What has changed in business or society and how do we support those who wrongly believe that they are impostors within our industry? The answer is unclear but it is true that a supportive and motivational business culture will naturally help reinforce success. Learning from leaders who are proven and respected, surrounding oneself with a positive peer group and a strong community will also help those who are struggling to appreciate their success and provide them with a platform to compare their actions and a network to reinforce their achievements. We have incredible talent within our industry whom we do need to support and encourage in every way possible.