Learning & Development

Imposter Syndrome Impacts Leaders Too: Here’s How to Use Imposter Syndrome to Bring You and Your Employees Closer

For many, imposter syndrome is simply a natural obstacle in life. It’s a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their skills or accomplishments and have an internalized fear of being exposed as frauds. Research shows that imposter syndrome impacts 70% of people, most commonly high achievers who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. It also remains heavily prevalent among business executives and other workplace leaders.

In the workplace, leaders struggling with imposter syndrome must manage this feeling within themselves while staying in tune with their employees’ insecurities. Although eliminating feelings of imposter syndrome altogether isn’t always possible, leaders do have the ability to manage their insecurities, as well as work closely with employees to help them do the same. In fact, one of the best strategies for workplace leaders is to normalize feelings of imposter syndrome within the workplace and keep lines of communication open for employees of all levels to express their internal struggles.

Imposter syndrome is a tough emotional pattern to manage. Leaders must remember they have worked hard to get to where they are—as have their employees—and are deserving of everything they’ve achieved. Rather than viewing imposter syndrome as a weakness, leaders can view their vulnerabilities as an opportunity to lead by example and to sympathize with colleagues and their insecurities while working collaboratively to overcome them.

Insecurities Make Us Human

Imposter syndrome is a pattern of self-doubt that often leads to stress, anxiety, and missed opportunities. To overcome imposter syndrome, it is essential to first acknowledge it. Our emotions and insecurities are not something to ignore. Rather than trying to pretend these feelings of self-doubt aren’t there, it’s vital to accept these feelings for what they are: a sign of our humanity.

Just because we believe we aren’t worthy of our accomplishments doesn’t make it true. While we have all worked hard to achieve and succeed, self-doubt happens to the best of us. Even some of the most successful and influential figures out there, such as Maya Angelou, Tom Hanks, and Arianna Huffington, have struggled with imposter syndrome, though they seem confident on the outside.

Remember that even those who seem the most confident are still battling their own insecurities. To overcome imposter syndrome, it is important to first understand these emotions are normal and that most people have felt this way at some point in their life. Self-doubt doesn’t make you weak; it only makes you human.

Vulnerabilities Make Stronger Leaders

Leaders often avoid expressing their insecurities in fear of appearing inferior. However, strong leaders understand that vulnerabilities are a strength and not a weakness. Leaders who are open and honest with their emotions foster a culture of open communication where employees feel psychologically safe showing up as their authentic selves. This honest environment provides employees and leaders with a culture of acceptance and support.

Vulnerability from leadership opens the channels of communication for employees, leading to higher levels of transparency and, as a result, stronger connections among colleagues. However, fostering empathy and building authentic relationships are only a small part of creating a psychologically safe culture.

Leaders must be willing to have those difficult conversations with employees and allow them to feel safe voicing their concerns, insecurities, and internal battles. Still, strong leaders do more than listen; they work with colleagues to develop and offer solutions to work through these uncertainties together.

Comparison Is the Route to Insecurity

Comparison is part of human nature and has played a huge role in evolution. It is because of comparison that humans have evolved to live together in cohesion. Comparison has helped humans learn from one another and has stopped us from falling too far behind our potential.

While comparison has helped humans evolve to what we are today, we want to identify when comparison is and isn’t providing value to our lives. A major component of insecurity comes from comparing ourselves with those around us and analyzing what traits others have that we don’t. This type of comparison ultimately detracts from how we show up in the world. Perhaps this is why Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

In the workplace, everyone is trying to climb the ladder. It’s often a difficult pill to swallow when we see colleagues move up but our progress has remained stagnant. On the other hand, moving up the ladder is intimidating, as we may feel threatened by the heavier workloads and higher level of authority. Regardless of what role we hold at work, it’s important to remember we are all on our own path, and we’re exactly where we need to be.

The tendency to compare often leads to not feeling good enough and self-doubt, resulting in imposter syndrome. However, comparing is one of the most natural things our brain does. With that in mind, rather than feeling intimidated by colleagues, we have the ability to sympathize with one another, as insecurities rooted in comparison are something we’ve all struggled with to some degree. This is an especially important strategy for leaders whose employees may feel too intimidated to communicate openly. For an effective culture, leaders want to foster an environment where employees feel like equals. While comparison is still likely to naturally happen, creating a culture where all employees are treated equally will help alleviate imposter syndrome and diminish feelings of intimidation.

Don’t Underestimate Yourself or Others

For many people, the moment they aren’t able to achieve something, they put up a wall blocking themselves from what they want. The most successful people have the most failures, so it is crucial to understand mistakes are natural.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you won’t struggle with insecurities. It’s key to remember we are all where we need to be, and we are deserving of everything we’ve accomplished. Additionally, we want to keep in mind we are not alone in what we are feeling. Effective leaders strengthen their culture by creating an environment with an open line of communication where all employees feel connected. A culture that allows employees to feel psychologically safe will minimize feelings of self-doubt and instead increase confidence, resulting in a more effective and productive workplace.

Phillip Meade, PhD, co-owner of Gallaher Edge and USA TODAY and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author, is a leadership expert, strategist, and speaker who works with companies to transform their culture from the inside out. He is also coauthor of The Missing Links: Launching a High Performing Company Culture.