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Tackling imposter syndrome as a manager

Managing a team, whether in the office or remotely, can be overwhelming. Especially when you’re not always confident in your own abilities.

Managing a team, whether in the office or remotely, can be overwhelming. Especially when you’re not always confident in your own abilities.

If you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume you’ve found yourself thinking:

“I don’t deserve this job. I’m not smart enough.”

“My team are going to think I’m a fraud. I only became a manager by sheer luck.”

“Everyone’s going to realise I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I’m not good enough to run a team.”

And you’re not alone.

85% of UK employees experience imposter syndrome at work.

So, whether you’re the CEO of a multi-million pound company or a first-time manager, you’re never too old or too wise to experience imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome: what is it?

Contrary to popular belief, imposter syndrome is not actually a syndrome. It’s more of an “experience.”

Essentially, it’s a pattern of self-doubt and feeling unworthy.

You know, your inner saboteur that feasts on your negative thoughts and stops you in your tracks? Yeah, imposter syndrome is your inner critic’s favourite thing.

Workplace imposter syndrome can display itself in these ways:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Feeling like a fraud
  • Believing you only have your role because of luck
  • Having the fear of your “incompetence” being exposed
  • Thinking compliments and praise are due to others being nice, and not because you deserve them
  • Feeling unworthy of your job title
  • Anxiousness

Anxiety when giving negative feedback is already rife in managers. Pairing feedback anxiety with imposter syndrome that encourages anxiousness is surely a recipe for disaster?

Thankfully, there are ways to overcome imposter syndrome. But first, you need to understand what type of imposter syndrome you have and the specific steps you can take to beat it.

What type of Imposter Syndrome am I?

The Perfectionist

One minor flaw within your work can make you feel like a failure, even if everything else was excellent.

Perfectionists can often be called “micromanagers” or “control freaks” in the world of work. It’s probably hard for you to delegate tasks because you don’t think anyone else can do the job as well as you (or better!)

You may find yourself avoiding trying new things like learning sign language or building a website because you’re fearful you won’t do it perfectly first time.

How to tackle this:

Perfectionists tend to set themselves unrealistic goals. “Perfect” is unachievable, so aiming for perfection is essentially setting yourself up for failure.

When you don’t reach “perfect” – and you never will – you feel like a failure.

Perfectionist  imposter syndrome, you should focus on setting yourself smaller, more realistic goals.

The Superperson

A person typically branded a “workaholic”.

You know, where there’s no such thing as “too much” work.

Any downtime is considered unproductive and you find yourself working that bit harder than everyone else to prove you’re worthy of your job title.

You push yourself to the limit, you’re constantly spinning plates, and you feel like a failure if you can’t complete a task.

How to tackle this:

Try to challenge your negative thoughts. There’s not a single person in this world that can do everything. Superhero imposter syndrome is named after a character that can do it all – but they’re fiction, you’re not.

You’re a real human being with a complex life. Managers especially have to do their own work, oversee a team, and report in to senior management.

When obstacles come along – and they will – you’ll probably drop a few balls, and that’s okay.

Repeat this: I am human,  I make mistakes, and that is okay.

The Natural Genius

Someone experiencing Natural Genius imposter syndrome will typically feel like an imposter if they don’t get things right on the first try.

Much like The Perfectionist.

The difference between the Perfectionist and Natural Genius type is the latter tend not to judge themselves on unrealistic expectations, and more on being fluent on everything.

The Natural Genius will:

  • Typically excel in everything
  • Probably didn’t have to revise much in school and still received high grades
  • Be branded as the “smart one” in the family

Even Emma Watson , you know, Hermione-blooming-Granger, experienced imposter syndrome:
‘When I was younger, I just did it. I just acted. It was just there. So now when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an impostor. It was just something I did.’

How to tackle this:

Recognising this type of imposter syndrome is incredibly important. If you were branded “the smart one” during your childhood, you’re probably going to need to work on this to really get past this imposter syndrome as it could be deeply ingrained in you.

Fear not – recognition is the first step.

Try to surround yourself with people that are experts at something you’re not. Becoming comfortable with the fact you’re not excellent at everything will be a huge part of overcoming this form of imposter syndrome.

The soloist

“I don’t need help, I can do it on my own.”

The Soloist will often believe they don’t need to lean on others for support. And if they do? They’ll feel like a failure.

Soloists may feel pressure to be more independent from senior leaders in the workplace. For Soloists, they believe they are seen to be weak or incompetent if they ask for help – a belief that also goes hand-in-hand with the stigma around mental health issues.

How to tackle this:

Reach out for support.

I know, this seems absurd. Doing the exact thing you don’t want to. But overcoming this type of imposter syndrome is a little like exposure therapy.

You just have to rip the plaster off.

Look for guidance and support in people you trust. Even if you’re a Soloist at work, you can lean on a family member or friend for support about work issues.

In fact, 84% of people said talking to a family member or friend about their imposter syndrome made them feel better.

The Expert

The Expert believes they know everything about everything. They think they should have all the answers, and if they don’t, they’re a fraud.

When confronted with a topic they don’t know anything about, Experts will feel like a failure or “not good enough” because they don’t know the answer.

Experts believe they should always know more – especially in the workplace.

The two-time Oscar winner, Jodie Foster experiences Expert imposter syndrome. Even while winning an Oscar.

‘When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, “Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.”’

How to tackle this:

Recognise your small achievements and your journey thus far.

You’ll never know everything and believing this is setting yourself unrealistic goals – much like The Perfectionist.

If you enjoy learning more, collaborate with others to learn a new skill. But always keep in mind you won’t always be an over-achiever in everything.

Learning something new can be humbling. You’ll probably make a few mistakes and that’s okay.

Discovering ways to tackle your imposter syndrome will be a key driver in overcoming it.

Whether you want to develop your confidence, set yourself realistic goals, or just be more transparent with your team members, imposter syndrome is manageable.

Find joy and success in the little things – not just work. You’ll soon notice you feel more whole when you’re not comparing yourself to others.

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Written by Mara Swann

Mara has a passion for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion across global workplaces and hopes to inspire learners to focus on their own careers with self-directed learning content.


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