Feel Like an Imposter?

Stop the self help and take a closer look at your business.

Does Your Business Support You?

If you’re worried that you’re failing at work, despite the positive feedback of your higher ups, then we suggest you take a closer look at your business before you try to change something about yourself.  Chances are if you’ve got to “fake it to make it,” then your business isn’t set up to truly support you.

Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome is a “chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overrides any feelings of success or external proof of competence” (HBR).

Many professionals suffer from feeling like an impostor and several possible root causes have been proposed including particular approaches to parenting and childhood experiences.  Based on these theories, strategies have been developed that help professionals internally check their self doubt to alleviate the feeling of inadequacy.

A Second Opinion

But before you dive into any of these strategies to improve yourself, you might consider taking a step back to better understand your workplace and what it’s doing (or not doing) to help you succeed and feel confident.  Maybe it’s your business that needs improvement.

At WeLocals, we have another theory for why professionals may deal with chronic self-doubt and a feeling of intellectual fraudulence.  We’ve seen first hand that organizations are often structured in ways that promote individualism, cut off lines of communication, and allow for a great deal ambiguity, which can cause professionals to feel insecure about their abilities, actions, and results.

For example, most businesses approach hiring with the goal of finding excellent talent who can jump in and deliver results in any context without a structured orientation and training program.  This approach relies on the belief that highly effective individuals should be able to quickly adapt to new organizations and new approaches without a structured transition. It’s expected that new hires should already know and/or be able to intuitively absorb the rules of a workplace, operational processes, and indicators of success.  

Unfortunately, this hiring approach is short sighted and self-serving.  Whether it’s done consciously or unconsciously, hiring without a structured orientation provides a short term benefit to the company’s bottom line by saving costs on labor instead of truly getting a new hire up to speed in a way that would cultivate confidence and improve their long term productivity, which has a much larger impact on the bottom line.  Also the unrealistic expectation of adaptability can cause employees to internalize their fears of incompetence – another symptom of Imposter Syndrome – because they wouldn’t want to jeopardize their employment by making the people who hired them think they aren’t the best person for the job.

The Ambiguity that Undermines

When expectations, processes, and systems aren’t articulated or communicated, it puts the entire burden of success on the shoulders of individual employees.  Naturally, in such an environment of ambiguity, someone pragmatic and conscientious, who cares about how their actions affect themselves and others, would worry that they didn’t know enough to succeed or that they could potentially miss an unclear target, even if they succeeded in the past.

Strong companies share the burden of success with their employees by clearly communicating expectations, providing the systems and processes that eradicate doubt and encourage emotional honesty and communication.  They prepare employees to achieve clearly articulated objectives in a culture that encourages employees to be honest about what they don’t know so they can get support to fill those gaps.

Using the hiring example, if companies approached hiring with the goal of identifying capable candidates for their orientation program that both trains and evaluates effectiveness, then new hires would feel much more confident that they were the right person for the job after completing the orientation.  And they would have a clear channel of communication with mentors to address any doubts moving forward.

Does your company have all the systems and processes in place to support you?


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Meet the Author

Frank Flavell
Frank FlavellCOO & Lead Integrator
Frank is a business strategist and operations specialist. With a keen eye for designing organizations that deliver compelling customer value, he helps clients across industries improve profit margins and build stronger workplaces.