Impostor Syndrome: Overcoming Feelings of Inadequacy in the Workplace

According to a NerdWallet study featured in HRD America, 78% of business leaders have experienced Impostor Syndrome at some point in their careers. However, just because you’re feeling self-doubt doesn’t mean you are in the wrong position. It may just mean that you need to change your perspective.

Impostor Syndrome Definition and Types

Feeling like an impostor is common. The medical term for it is impostor syndrome or impostor phenomenon. The National Library of Medicine describes impostor syndrome as a behavioral health phenomenon. Those who experience it feel self-doubt about their intellect, skills or accomplishments. It often results in feeling anxiety or depression over being exposed.

The Five Impostor Syndrome Types

Those who experience impostor syndrome fit in one or more of five different types: the perfectionist, superperson, natural genius, soloist and expert.

  1. Perfectionist: The perfectionist experiences a form of polarized thinking. People who struggle with perfectionism find themselves paralyzed by the feeling that they need to be perfect instead of being motivated by the chance to improve.
  2. Superperson: The superman or woman needs to be the best, which often results in over-preparing so they appear more than capable. While being prepared is good, having unattainable self-imposed standards can lead to unnecessary stress.
  3. Natural Genius: Natural geniuses have a hard time pushing themselves. They give up easily and avoid tasks they aren’t immediately good at.
  4. Soloist: Soloists feel they need to achieve independence and success without help. They view asking for help as a weakness and fear that showing any vulnerability will leave them exposed.
  5. Expert: Experts often acquire specialized skills in their field. They need to know everything within their specialty. The problem is even though they strive to know everything, they still feel inept and chalk their accomplishments up to good luck.

How to Recognize and Overcome Impostor Syndrome

It’s easier to look at someone else and see what they need rather than looking inward to see our own opportunities to evolve. But taking time to be introspective can be valuable, albeit uncomfortable at time. When we make the effort to recognize where we struggle, we can work on the skills needed to move forward.

Recognizing Impostor Syndrome in Yourself

People are complex and may feel they relate to multiple of the five impostor syndrome personas. Knowing which personas match your feelings and experience will help you determine your triggers so that you can overcome them to move forward.

Signs of a perfectionist include:

  • Micromanaging
  • Inability to delegate
  • Obsessing over details
  • Struggling with decision-making
  • Having high standards and unrealistic expectations
  • Fear of failure or making mistakes

Signs of a superperson include:

  • Inability to handle constructive criticism
  • Feeling stressed when you’re not working
  • Feeling guilty when taking breaks or enjoying leisure activities
  • Feeling a lot of pressure to do your best

Signs of a natural genius include:

  • Past successes have seemingly come easily
  • Lacking self-confidence when faced with a setback
  • A belief that success comes from your ability, not hard work
  • Setting high standards for self
  • Feeling critical of perceived obstacles to success

Signs of a soloist include:

  • Feeling that you need to do it all on your own
  • Feeling inadequate if you need help
  • Struggling to network
  • Having difficulty accepting constructive criticism

Signs of an Expert include:

  • Feeling pressure to master every step
  • Experiencing stress over the constant feeling that you need more training and certifications, regardless of how many you already have
  • Feeling like a fraud despite credentials and experience that prove expertise
  • Struggling with procrastination and feeling overwhelmed

Impostor Syndrome Coping Skills

Unfortunately, you aren’t going to magically feel better after gaining awareness from reading this article. However, you can use the following tools to help you reframe your thoughts and transition from feeling like you have an impostor life to having an imposter moment. After determining your triggers (new job, recognition, promotion, etc.), start working on the following skills to help manage the negative feelings these triggers cause.

  • Recognize Accomplishments: When we take the time to recognize our accomplishments without comparing ourselves to others, we can see how far we have come. Writing down your accomplishments or having someone else write what you have done can help you better recognize your progress.
  • Reframe Negative Thoughts: When you have a negative thought about yourself, it helps to turn that thought around. Instead of attributing your success to outside factors, focus on your strengths and the hard work that got you there.
  • Find Support: A support system is critical. Find a friend, a significant other or a therapist to act as a sounding board and neutral third party. Tell them how you feel and solicit their help in overcoming the negative thoughts holding you back from enjoying your life.
  • Practice Self-Compassion: Lastly, you need to be kind to yourself. We are often our worst critics and nitpick ourselves over things no one else notices. Take a moment to recognize when the expectations you have for yourself match or exceed what others expect. It’s ok to strive to do better. However, when you fall short, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, try looking at it as a growing experience. What can you learn and do differently next time?

Additional Help with AJO Coaching

While these tools will help you get started, coaching will help you and your team recognize pain points and take action, giving you the boost needed to start making changes. AJO offers coaching for leadership, teams and peers.

Leadership Coaching

AJO coaches empower leaders to unlock their full potential by developing new skills that help them reach their personal goals and improve their organizations.

Team Coaching

By utilizing team coaching techniques, AJO helps working groups improve their alignment, communication, and overall effectiveness. With guidance from an AJO coach, teams can see their blind spots and take action.

Peer Coaching

AJO coaches help to build collaborative work environments were individuals can thrive. Peer coaching program provide insights and guidance to help individuals perform at their best and work together to optimize their cross-organizational collaboration, productivity, and engagement.

Learn more about AJO coaching programs here and take the important steps towards recognizing and overcoming impostor syndrome today.

Related Posts:

Realize the Intrinsic Value of Communication in the Workplace: Follow these 4 “C”s

Overcoming Cultural Differences in the Workplace: Building Bridges to Evolve Your Work Practices


Post by AJO

Founded on core family values and a commitment to building strong, long-lasting partnerships, AJO approaches its work with confidence and expertise that only comes with over 40 years in the business. Working with companies of all sizes, needs and budgets, AJO develops high-performing teams and global leaders for organizational success.