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Four more good reasons to eliminate Impostor Syndrome

Four more good reasons to eliminate Impostor Syndrome

By Jay Fehnel for Johan Advisors

Impostor Syndrome is a widely recognized phenomenon. It’s seen when accomplished professionals lack justified confidence in their abilities, intelligence or expertise. 

As a result, these highly capable people don’t seek the assignments, promotions or recognition they deserve. In addition, they may feel incapable and unworthy when taking on new roles or working with new colleagues.

Some experts say as many as 70% of us experience these feelings at least once in our career.  While the phenomenon is now believed to be equally common among men and women, many observers find that women are more likely to talk about it with others.

In my work with high-potential executives, I see the signs of Impostor Syndrome several times each year. It looks like this:

-  Undervaluing your clearly visible strengths

-  Overvaluing the strengths of your colleagues and feeling inadequate

- Not proactively sharing your own accomplishments and those of your team

-  Not assertively pursuing natural promotion opportunities

-  Taking a back-seat in meetings (oftentimes, literally)

Most coverage of this topic focuses on the costs suffered by the individual who feels like an Impostor.  I encourage my clients to see their challenge from a broader perspective, to consider the ripple effects that flow from their self-deprecating thoughts and actions.

When you see this bigger picture, you’ll see that the negative impacts of Imposter Syndrome extend far beyond you:

- Your team suffers:  When you don’t promote your team’s accomplishments and strengths, your team members miss out on opportunities and pay increases they have earned.  Also, when you don’t pursue and win justifiable promotions, you may be blocking several team members from opportunities to advance their career.

- Your clients suffer: When you aren’t making your full contribution, your clients miss out on the value you could bring and, instead, get sub-optimal value from less-talented or more-expensive colleagues.

- Your company suffers:  When you aren’t feeling fully valued in your organization, you’re more likely to stagnate or leave.  Meanwhile, people with less skill, savvy and knowledge move up, impacting business results for years to come.

- The world suffers: I often see that those dealing with Impostor Syndrome are more thoughtful, careful and kind than the average executive that gets ahead (many times with unjustified confidence and low self-awareness, or worse).  As a result, management ranks become tilted towards people with less talent, emotional intelligence and respect for their colleagues. In other words, THE JERKS WIN!

From this perspective, Impostor Syndrome can be seen as a perfect “lose-lose-lose-lose-lose” proposition. 

I don’t mean to blame the victims.  For those who have Impostor Syndrome, the stress and costs are real. I just hope, if you’re among them, you’ll see that the stakes are much higher than your own success and satisfaction. 

Here’s what we all can do to reduce the negative ripple effects of Impostor Syndrome:

If you know you are showing up at work with less than your fully justified confidence, understand it’s worth the effort to change.  Work with a trusted mentor or colleagues to become clear about all the ways you deliver value. Claim what you deserve.

Also, if you’re a leader of others, be on the lookout for the people on your team who aren’t owning their strengths or advocating for themselves. Share your concerns and offer support and coaching.  Make it clear you expect people to be level-headed advocates for themselves and their teams.

As business leaders and citizens, we need the best people knowing and showing all their true strengths, all the time.  That includes you and your team. Don’t let the jerks win.


If you’d like to help make others aware of the true costs of Impostor Syndrome, please share this article to spread this viewpoint. Thanks.

(Jay Fehnel is an Executive Coach and Strategy Advisor for C-suite leaders, senior management teams and their high-potential successors. He helps executives define and achieve their professional and personal growth goals. Jay is principal and owner of Johan Advisors.)