Imposter Syndrome and Why You Should Embrace It

According to Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. People with imposter syndrome suffer chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external validation of competence. So should you embrace your imposter syndrome and how will it improve your leadership?

Leadership failures and a loss in confidence in our leaders continue to grow. One of the most significant causes of leadership failure is excessive self-confidence. When people in leadership roles are overly self-confident, they fail to reduce their exposure to company-specific risk. Think about Elon Musk, John Schnatter, and Travis Kalanick. Additionally, excessively self-confident leaders make poor financial decisions and lack social cues that highlight their mistakes. Such was the example of John Stumph and Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw the division within Wells Fargo that opened fake accounts under customer names to boost sales. Too confident leaders are more likely to fail because they put their needs above the needs of the greater good. A great example of this is Adam Neumann of WeWork.

Could a bit of imposter syndrome have helped these leaders stay out of the negative spotlight? Would their reputation and business have benefited from a dose of modesty to tame their hubris? Leadership is more effective with moderate self-doubt. Therefore, the trick in embracing your imposter syndrome is to find a balance between the negative self-talk and healthy humility.

Embracing a moderate amount of imposter syndrome in these areas will make your leadership more effective.

Underrated abilities are more effective.

What is more important, how a leader rates their skills, or how those they lead rate their skills? How you evaluate your skills can be a blind spot in your leadership. When leaders resist their imposter syndrome they overrate their abilities, which causes their team to view them as arrogant and complacent. They are ego-driven and use their position to inflate their egos further and bolster their self-esteem. They are quick to point out other people’s shortcomings as a way to redirect attention from their own.

Embracing imposter syndrome helps leaders underrate their skills and continuously work to improve. They know there is more to learn and can admit when someone else could do better or teach them. They solicit feedback up and down the organization. These leaders go above and beyond to recognize the work of others and to make them feel appreciated. Instead of being ego-driven, leaders who underrate their skills are interested in the greater good. Employees value humbleness and as a result, are more likely to view humble leaders as leaders. Additionally, leaders who underrate themselves have more engaged employees.

Imposter syndrome creates a self-perceived lack of competence which improves performance.

Leaders who have too much confidence in their competence are unrealistically optimistic, which causes them to believe they will be more successful than circumstances allow. They tend to ignore critical feedback and are unlikely to see their flaws. As a result, they don’t work to overcome their weaknesses. More so, leaders who overrate their competence fail to recognize the competent skills of their peers and team.

Embracing imposter syndrome enables a leader to question their competence, so they talk less and ask more questions. Rather than rushing to speak, they chose their words carefully to make their point. By asking more questions, they demonstrate they don’t assume to know all the answers, and they value the opinions of their team. Doing so not only keeps them learning but also encourages others to speak up and contribute their knowledge and ideas. Leaders who feel some incompetence are more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are motivated to keep working on their weaker areas. Furthermore, these leaders are more likely to implement the feedback they receive regardless of who gives it.

Own the blame for failure because failure is a great teacher.

Being overly confident about their skills and competence causes leaders to fail to recognize their own mistakes. These leaders always have someone or something to point their finger at when something fails. They can’t accept blame for their mistakes because they are unable to step back and look at their behaviors and abilities that caused them.

Failures are often the result of bad leadership. When leaders embrace a moderate dose of their imposter syndrome by being realistic about their abilities and limitations, they can own the blame. They ask for feedback on how others perceive their skills and abilities and use that information to improve. They question what they know and, more so, admit when they don’t. As a result, they can easily accept blame and allow the failure to be a lesson. In doing so, they send a message to their team that mistakes happen, and that is OK because they are opportunities to grow and learn.

Feeling like a fraud when you shouldn’t has it’s benefits. It keeps you self-aware and allows you to continue to grow and develop. Conversely, not feeling like a fraud when you should has terrible consequences. It creates blind spots in your leadership, and as a result, causes poor performance for you, your team, and your organization. As with most things, moderation is key. The best leaders are relentlessly driven yet humble. Moderately embracing your imposter syndrome will help keep you humble.

Originally published at https://www.jasoncortel.com on November 13, 2019.

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Changing the world by developing people professionally. Author who blogs about leadership, career advice, and coaching. #WhyYouNow

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Jason Cortel

Jason Cortel

Changing the world by developing people professionally. Author who blogs about leadership, career advice, and coaching. #WhyYouNow

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