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Feeling Like a Fraud: Impostor
Syndrome and Team Productivity

“I’m not competent enough.” “My success was just a matter of luck. I don’t deserve it.” “It won’t be long that they find out that I am just a fraud.” Did you ever feel the same? Then you’re not alone – this can be a sign of the impostor syndrome.

Impostor phenomenon, or impostor syndrome, is not uncommon at the workplace. Basically, it can affect almost any area of activity. It is typical for successful people – even the greatest minds like Albert Einstein have suffered from it.

The syndrome shows up as a feeling that you’re not good enough for your job and others will notice soon that you are incompetent and basically bad at your work.

If you ever suffered from the impostor syndrome, you know how it affects productivity.

Its negative effect can range from just a low self-esteem to major productivity problems. It invites perfectionism and procrastination – the two major enemies at the workplace.

The problem

Perfectionism doesn’t allow you to get things done and move forward to the next tasks. It seems that the work you’ve just done is not good enough and needs improvement.

Then, procrastination comes into play. It provides you with an additional “evidence” that you are not a good fit for your position. Sure thing: you can’t get work done in reasonable time, easily get distracted, and end up having a feeling that you just wasted your time.

As a result, self-doubt increases and invites the thought: “What gives me the right to be here?”.

Although some psychologists argue that impostor feelings can be beneficial for career and success, the reality isn’t so exciting. The impostor syndrome is very disruptive for work efficiency and performance. It affects individual productivity and sometimes can influence team performance.

So, not only employees need to handle the consequences of their impostor feelings, but their managers too.

Is action always necessary?

Sometimes, the problem is not really severe. People might use the term “impostor syndrome” simply to define low self-esteem and justify poor performance.

Still there are signs that can indicate more serious problems caused by the syndrome:

  • Productivity and performance problems caused by self-doubt and lack of self-confidence.
  • Fear of failure that causes fear to take action and get work done.
  • Fear of success (that also blocks from actions). As surprisingly as it may sound, it’s also a sign of impostor phenomenon: the affected employee considers that success brings responsibility that they will not be able to handle.
  • Distractions, procrastination and lack of organization. And if it leads to missed deadlines, the “victim” of the impostor syndrome is usually not surprised – just “because I’m a fraud anyway”.
  • Perfectionism that blocks the employees from tackling their tasks.

In most cases, the impostor syndrome doesn’t require any manager’s actions.

But if it seems to cause major productivity problems within the team, you’d be tempted to take some action to improve work efficiency and performance.

Fighting impostor syndrome

How can you recognize possible problems on the team related to the impostor phenomenon, and what can you do about it?

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do here as a manager. Impostor syndrome is a problem that normally should be tackled individually by the person who suffers from it. However, there are several measures that can minimize its effect.

The most important step is collecting feedback from your employees, listening, and understanding your team. Then, you can influence on the emotional well-being of your team by:

  • Choosing proper language to communicate with the team;
  • Providing positive feedback;
  • Asking for a feedback;
  • Acting as a mentor for those who need help;
  • Setting realistic expectations.

Psychologists say that success itself is not a remedy against the impostor syndrome. Self-validation is what helps overcome it.

So, active communication, positive feedback and recognition help minimize the effects of the syndrome on team’s performance.

Summary

The effects of the impostor syndrome on personal and team’s performance usually are limited to lack of self-confidence and minor problems related to procrastination.

However, sometimes it might cause severe productivity loss and affect work outcomes. That means that team managers can — and should — take action to fight the consequences of the impostor syndrome.

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