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Published on: HR Coaching & Mentoring

Leadership Coaching Tips For Individuals With Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever had an employee who just doesn’t seem to be able to take credit where it’s due or believe in themselves? They’re the ones who are constantly putting their success down to luck or think they’ve only done well because no one else tried. 

Or maybe you have experienced those same feelings yourself?

If so, there’s a chance that person (or you) is suffering from imposter syndrome.

It can be a crippling thing to tackle in the workplace, so read on for our best tips on how to navigate this tricky situation and empower your team with confidence.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome describes a situation when people don’t believe they deserve to be in their position or that they are good enough to do the job. In short, they feel like a fraud.

Imposter syndrome was first acknowledged in the late 1970s. At the time, they thought it only applied to women, but later showed that men can be affected too. 

While men are known to suffer too, it is believed that women are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome, as are people who identify as LGBTQ+ and people of colour. The crippling thing about it is that it commonly affects high flyers and people who are trying something new.

Why Does Imposter Syndrome Cause Problems at Work?

Imposter syndrome can stop seemingly confident and skilled employees in their tracks. It usually presents in three main ways, all of which can cause issues. They are:

1: Paralysis

Like a deer stuck in the headlights, the uncertainty caused by Imposter Syndrome can leave people unable to perform tasks that they are more than capable of.

Often individuals can feel afraid to step up to complete a task or to take on a new role – also known as new job imposter syndrome. This paralysis usually happens because they are worried that they aren’t good enough or are worried that people will judge them too harshly. 

Whatever the reason, it’s not great for your workplace productivity. It often means that the job simply doesn’t get done, is only half completed, or is not done to a satisfactory standard as doubt got in the way.

2: Perfectionism

Perfectionism can be just as detrimental as paralysis in terms of productivity. Perfectionists often suffer from performance anxiety and can’t finish the job because it can’t be completed to their standards.

You will probably find that they rework the task numerous times, unable to ever give it a final sign-off as every aspect is not quite perfect. In short, it never gets completed and a lot of time is wasted!

3: People Pleasing

Because people with imposter syndrome don’t believe they deserve to be there, they often try and please everyone else. These people probably say yes instead of no because they want to feel like they belong. They think that pleasing everyone is the way to do it. But this can lead to overworking and stress.

The 3 Ps of Imposter Syndrome 

Paralysis, perfectionism and people-pleasing don’t help the individual, and they don’t help the business either. And imposter syndrome can be doubly frustrating because it often strikes your highest flying employees – the ones that you can see have real potential even If they can’t see it themselves.

That’s the bad news. But the good news is that as a leader, be it a person’s manager or an HR leader, you can help to change their thinking and overcome their insecurities.

Four Ways Leaders Can Help People with Imposter Syndrome

1: Be specific with feedback

People with imposter syndrome often put their success down to luck or some external circumstances. Offering specific feedback gives them less opportunity to deflect their success. It can help to praise effort as much as achievement. Regular detailed feedback also helps individuals to see how they are improving over time.

2: Use strengths-based reviews

Strengths-based reviews focus on identifying the key strengths an individual has and how they contribute to their overall performance and alignment with company goals.

Strengths-based reviews are helpful for all employees but particularly for imposter syndrome sufferers. Focusing on positive elements can help to increase confidence and resilience, and engagement among employees.

3: Provide an inclusive environment where people feel able to express themselves

People with imposter syndrome often don’t recognise that they have it, or don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Creating an inclusive, open environment encourages employees to come forward with problems.

It also helps them to feel validated and respected when their contributions are acknowledged. Being inclusive builds confidence and empowers everyone, including those that doubt themselves.

4: Provide access to mentoring and development training

If you have a team member that is doubting their ability, offering them, the chance to skill up could be all the reassurance they need.

Alongside having a generally open environment, offering a mentor or specific development training can work well. It gives people a one-on-one environment in which to identify their issues and develop strategies to move past them.

Do You Need Help to Help Others?

It can sometimes be tricky knowing what to say to someone with imposter syndrome. If you are looking to help employees suffering from imposter syndrome and would like some support to ensure you are doing things right, then let’s discuss coaching and consultation options.

I can work with you to develop strengths-based coaching options and bespoke training programmes.

Get in touch to discuss what’s best for your team.