Executive Anxiety: Feel Like A Fraud At Work?
24 March 2017
Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome) - a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
For many high-achieving successful individuals who find themselves in positions of responsibility within their career, imposter syndrome is something of a common occurrence. It’s a fear that you’ve achieved too much, too quickly and sooner or later you’ll find yourself – for want of a better phrase – being “found out”.
In many conversations I have had with highly qualified, competent CFOs and Finance Directors, this is definitely the case. I am speaking with increasing numbers of individuals who, despite the level of office and responsibility that they hold, privately fear that they’re not good enough. Sadly, it’s more common amongst women than it is in men.
In my experience, women in particular, frequently feel like they are constantly having to prove themselves in the workplace and are more inclined to hold a fear that their positions might be at risk – something that we explored on International Women’s Day.
New research by Ghent University has found that, rather than working harder to prove their abilities, sufferers actually bury themselves in their tasks, avoiding extra responsibility. They become trapped in an “imposter cycle” – feeling like a fake, but too afraid of being unmasked as fake to do anything about it.
There is a very fine line between being modest and self-deprecating and being self-destructive. Believe me when I say, no one is following you around with a flashing neon sign saying FRAUD. But, if you feel like you’re about to be exposed as not really knowing what you’re doing, relax. It is possible to work through these feelings and channel genuine confidence instead.
Here are my nine top tips for overcoming imposter syndrome.
Talk about it
There is absolutely no shame in admitting that you’re having these thoughts and feelings. Mental wellbeing in the workplace is becoming an increasingly pressing issue, and this is part of it. Acknowledge that you are having a problem and open up about it. Consider an external, trusted advisor to act as your coach.
Separate feelings from facts
Sure, you might feel like you’re faking your way through your career, but is that actually true? Look objectively at your achievements – or ask someone else to – do they match up with your thoughts? If you’re doing a good job and meeting expectations, chances are you have nothing to worry about.
Accentuate the positive
Nobody goes through their career without doing something right. Maybe you delivered on targets, managed people well, achieved professional qualifications or delivered great client experience? Remember these times (make an actual, physical note in a diary somewhere) when you’re having a bad day.
Don’t take failure personally
Even the most successful business minds can see companies decline or ideas fail to take off. Do you think that stops them from moving on to their next task? Failure happens every day. The key is not to take it personally, especially if you have truly done your best. Failure is simply gaining experience, in the guise of learning.
Ask for help
There is no shame in asking for help at work. Whether it be a massive project that you’re not sure about, or a small keyboard shortcut you can’t remember. No one is expected to be absolutely perfect all of the time. If you’re unsure – ask a colleague (even a more junior one!). There is no point sitting in silence, fearing the worst, when someone will usually be willing and able to provide help.
Have a sense of humour
If you’ve heard the phrase “If I didn’t laugh, I would cry,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Learn to lighten the mood a little and have a bit of a laugh when things go wrong. As I said before, everyone makes mistakes, so there is no point in getting yourself overly worked up or upset over something. Perspective is really important.
Play yourself a different narrative
If you keep telling yourself you’re rubbish at your job and it’s only a matter of time before everyone else realises, then that’s what you’ll believe. If you start each day by looking at yourself square in the mirror and saying “Today will be a good day and I am great at my job,” it will start to sink in. Tell a different story about yourself. Reprogram your inner voice.
Make a plan
Whether it be daily, weekly, monthly or even hourly (if you need it), make a solid plan of work. Studies have shown that ticking off a checklist releases endorphins. It will also help you feel like you are more in control of your work life if you are able to plan out projects, meetings, and objectives.
When you have done well – no matter how big the achievement is – treat yourself. Everyone likes to get a pat on the back for a job well done. If you fancy seeing a film, a meal out or enjoying some exercise … Go for it. It’s so important to relieve and balance the stresses of your day-to-day career with a fulfilling life outside of the office.
Do you privately recognise some of the above? Are you a senior professional suffering from imposter syndrome? Not sure where to take your career next?
You don’t need to continue feeling trapped as a passenger in your own career. Talk to me in confidence for the support and direction to enable you take the next steps.
Written By Barry Lee