How business leaders can handle their own imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome isn't reserved only for employees, with some of the most high-level professionals suffering the most.

Why imposter syndrome persists in the workplace, and how to deal with it

Imposter syndrome undoubtedly persists in the workplace, leaving employees feeling irrationally unqualified for, and lacking confidence in, their job positions. These feelings affect employees emotionally and professionally which is why they are encouraged to turn to their managers for help

"People with imposter syndrome have a sense of inadequacy, dismiss their achievements, and are very critical of themselves—despite evidence that indicates they are skilled and successful at their job," said Liesl Bernard, CEO of staffing agency CannabizTeam. "This can take different forms based on the individual's background, personality and circumstances."

SEE: How imposter syndrome is infecting the workplace (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Managers and other professionals in leadership positions should be willing and able to give their employees necessary affirmation and recognition, especially if the employee has communicated feelings of imposter syndrome. 

However, imposter syndrome doesn't discriminate based on career level. Whether starting as an entry-level employee or sitting in the C-suite, any working professional—and person—can suffer from imposter syndrome. 

Those at a higher professional level are sometimes even more likely to experience imposter syndrome, according to Bob Glazer, founder and CEO of global performance marketing agency Acceleration Partners.

After being a part of many CEO peer groups, Glazer said he found that the people who tend to have imposter syndrome are actually those who are the most qualified in their jobs. 

"[Imposter syndrome] is actually very common amongst high performers or leaders, and I've heard all of these stories of people, top of their fields, whether they're artists, writers, leaders otherwise," Glazer said. "It's not necessarily a bad thing, I think it drives them to be better. It drives them to be more careful, it drives them to be a little more humble."

However, imposter syndrome can also be detrimental to a professional's career, creating a trickle down effect into the rest of the organization, Glazer noted.

Here are the steps business leaders can take to best handle their imposter syndrome. This article is also available as a download, How imposter syndrome is infecting the workplace (free PDF).

1. Affirmation

While the responsibility usually falls on managers and higher-ups to give employees affirmation, they should use the same affirming words on themselves. 

"There are some affirmational things that people should go through and a little bit of self-talk of share their opinions with others," said Glazer. Finding confidence within and exuding it is crucial to stopping and preventing imposter syndrome, he added. 

The professionals should also turn to their peers and other members of senior membership for encouraging words or advice, Bernard said.

"The worker suffering from this syndrome should surround him/her self with validating feedback," Bernard noted. "In building strong relationships with senior management and coworkers, the individual will be able to lean on someone and won't be afraid to ask for guidance."

2. Ditch the qualifiers

A part of feeling confident is sounding confident, Glazer said, and this all begins with vocabulary and frames of reference. 

Glazer and his team have coached clients on removing qualifiers from their vocabularies. Qualifiers are words or clauses attached to a statement that either increase or decrease its quality. 

Glazer included the following examples of qualifiers: "'Well, if I was being honest.' Or, 'If I was to tell you what I really think.' 'From my perspective.' 'In my opinion...' think, believe, maybe, all these kind of qualifiers," he said. 

"Those all do a huge disservice to whatever comes next out of your mouth," Glazer added. "Remove the qualifiers; act like you belong; exude confidence."

3. Maintain a healthy perspective

While imposter syndrome can help motivate and drive professionals, retaining too much can prevent a professional from progressing and learning, Glazer said. 

Since imposter syndrome is often fueled by irrational thoughts and feelings, Bernard said, leaders should try and separate emotionally-driven feelings from reality.

"One of the first steps to overcoming impostor feelings is to acknowledge these negative thoughts and put them into perspective—'What I am thinking is just a thought and not a fact,'" said Bernard. "IT leaders should keep a record of their emotions and accomplishments so they can best cope with the imposter feeling—especially if the person is a senior hire."

For more, check out How imposter syndrome makes the tech gender gap even worse, on TechRepublic. 

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