Impostor Syndrome | The hidden value of feeling like a fraud

New challenge ahead? Doing something for the first time? And there it is again. That tiny voice in your head: "Okay, I am sure this time they will find out that I don't know what the hack I am actually doing. They will finally discover that I am a fraud!" Hello, Impostor Syndrome! Impostor syndrome is a thought pattern where a person has a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud,” and which makes that person doubt himself and/or minimize their accomplishments. 

Everybody feels like an impostor sometimes

Good news is: You are not alone. Not at all. Even the most successful leaders (or especially them) feel that way sometimes.

More than a third of leaders (36%) experience frequent or high levels of 'impostor feeling', according to a research of Heriot-Watt University and the School for CEOs. It found that female leaders (54%) experience the impostor feeling to a higher degree than men (24%) . Fifty-four per cent of females admitted to feel like a fraud versus 24% of men.

The report revealed as well, that older leaders experience that feeling of self-doubt to a lesser degree than their younger counterparts. Forty-five per cent of 24- to- 44-year-old leaders said they frequently experience that feeling, compared to 30% of 45- to 54-year-olds and 23% of 55- to 74-year-olds.

Feeling like a fraud? - Congratulations!

So, you found out you feel like an impostor sometimes. That's actually not as bad as you would think! In fact, you can use it to your advantage.

Each time you feel a little bit like an impostor, you are getting a signal that you are challenging yourself and discovering something new. This is a good thing. You are growing. When you are about to step into that new role, start off a new project or lead a bigger team and you wonder again "How the hack have I managed to even get to that point?!", remind yourself that the comfort zone you’re stepping out of right now likely triggered those exact same feelings when you started your current position or project. Once you have gained more experience and reached a level of comfort again, the voice gets smaller or might even disappear. Well, until your next challenge at least.

If as an entrepreneur, a curious professional that likes to jump into new challenges, a leader of a team or an organization, you are constantly put in the position of doing things you haven't done before. Even if you might have the necessary skills to arrive at a solution, you may find yourself stumped when you don’t have easy answers at the ready.

Is it uncomfortable? Maybe a bit scary? Yes, sure! But you have chosen to take on that challenge for very good reasons, haven't you?

Embrace the feeling of self-doubt

Our brain can’t differentiate between feeling excited and feeling anxious well because the physiological experience is very similar. That same sensation of the heart beating rapidly and butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling when you’re about to give an important speech is what you feel when you’re going on a first date.

So, the key difference between excitement and anxiety is what story you tell yourself. Your mind-set. There are a lot of standard advice for coping with the Impostor Syndrome (stop comparing yourself, accept that you’re successful, focus on providing value etc.). Basically, it's about reassuring yourself. And since it is not a pleasant feeling, people naturally want to fight it.

Don't fight the doubt. Embrace it.

But you could take a different approach, and embrace the doubt. Accept that the doubt is there, and use it to learn and become better. Obviously, I am not talking about the extreme cases as this can make you sick, but i am talking about that nasty little voice that a lot of people experience sometimes. If you are committed to growing yourself, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Fighting that feeling might not be the right strategy. Instead, welcome it with open arms and acknowledge it. Use it to your advantage and become a better leader.

Self-doubt can make you a better leader

Self-doubt makes your ideas better.

Doubt makes us ask more and better questions which makes us explore more options. With more knowledge we can gain more clarity and confidence.

Self-doubt is not a sign of weakness.

It can make you stronger. Addressing your feeling of self-doubt will make you think harder about what you’re doing. Like this, you will make more intentional, well thought-out decisions and take considered actions.

Vulnerability and humility can be a sign of authentic leadership and admitting those feelings to yourself (even in front of trusted colleagues) is a sign of courage. Humble leaders tend to be more open to other people’s opinions, and more willing to admit failures. Great leaders are receptive to other people's input, and transparent about their mistakes. It helps others learn from them, and builds trust among your team. When in doubt, ask: “I don’t know, what do you think?”

To keep growing and developing, embrace the fact that, yes, you sometimes are an impostor and you’ll definitely end up making some mistakes. And this is a good thing.

Mistakes create a feedback loop in which information is evolved and knowledge is grown.

You don't suffer from Dunning–Kruger.

There is actually another hidden value of feeling like an impostor sometimes: It shows, you don't suffer from Dunning–Kruger. The Dunning–Kruger effect is often seen as the 'opposite' of Imposter Syndrome. It is a cognitive bias which refers to the false belief that we know more than we do.

If you think you have all the answers and you don’t need any help, you’re in danger of making bad decisions. People suffering from this kind of bias might come across as arrogant, ignorant and not cooperative. And I think we can agree, that those are no leadership qualities to aim for.

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