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Imposter Syndrome in the workplace

Imposter Syndrome - reality or just a buzzword

Is ‘Imposter Syndrome’ an issue that business leaders and L&D practitioners need to factor into their developmental plans, the future of their workers and of their brand – or is it just another millennial buzzword that excuses a lack of drive in an entitled generation?

Firstly, we need to explain what we mean by ‘imposter syndrome’ – a phrase you’ll have seen drifting through your timeline on social media, or written about in the media.

Imposter Syndrome is the sense that you are faking your expertise and accomplishments, and an associated, persistent fear that you will be exposed as ‘a fraud’.

Recent articles claim that this is a phenomenon which up to 70% of millennials experience – but should it be a buzzword linked only to millennials, or does that runs the risk of self-doubt not being taken seriously, or of anyone else who has these moments of doubt feeling unable to openly talk about them?

As a recognised phenomenon, Imposter Syndrome (or imposter phenomenon, fraud syndrome or imposter experience) was first identified by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, in a research paper published in the late 70s, where they stated that many high-achieving women tended to believe that they were not intelligent, and that they were over-evaluated by others.

Many sources say that this is a feeling more common in successful women than men, and that it’s more common in younger generations – but we don’t believe that’s true.

We think that Imposter Syndrome is common at all ages, at all levels of professional hierarchy, and in both men and women alike. It’s just possible that younger people – and, in particular, younger women – are more openly discussing their feelings.

So if this phenomenon is real, and is affecting such a large proportion of your workforce, what can you do to counter it?

Whatever stage you have reached in your career, and however sure you are of your abilities in that role, everyone has moments of doubt, of fear, and of conviction that you are going to make a mistake. We all feel at times that someone will realise we aren’t entirely sure of what we’re doing, and that we will be ‘called out’ on your failings.

Here’s the nub; it is ridiculous to think that you might be able to perform your role, whatever that role may be, without ever making a mistake, without ever dropping the ball, and without ever having to reassess a decision and make a new plan.

It doesn't mean that you are an imposter - it means that you are human

Do you know who else is human?


Every boss you’ve ever had. Every employee you’ve ever had. All of your peers, in the workplace and in your personal life. Each and every client you’ve approached, and every customer you’ve ever served.

As well as being human, every single one of them has, at some point, shared those doubts in their own abilities and felt that they were ‘acting a role’ as a professional.

This is the problem with the concept of ‘imposter syndrome’. We don’t doubt the validity of the feeling – we simply know that, far from being a rare or worrying psychological condition that strikes from time to time, it is a mind space we will all experience, and it is nothing more concerning than being a person, who has a lot going on, and who is seeking opportunities to grow, and ways to celebrate successes and take risks without fear.

As business leaders, your job isn’t to pretend that you are always on top form, that you are flawless and never make the wrong call.

It is to acknowledge your own strengths, and celebrate them, and to do the same with the areas you are less strong. This gives your workforce permission to do the same. To embrace, internalise and accept their successes – building confidence and drive – while allowing a supportive space to use any mistakes made as a learning point, to assess decisions as a team, and to work together to do everything to the best of your abilities as a group, making use of everyone’s strengths and filling any gaps in experience with the knowledge the rest of the team brings.

If you lead in this way, everyone has opportunities to grow, to learn, and to fix mistakes without the pressure of feeling that they need to be ‘perfect’.

Great leadership is human first – and respects the humanity of the workforce. If you get this right, there is no overwhelming pressure or drive for perfection, and everyone is supported to be their own best and ask for help when they need it, to train as they work, to develop and grow their skill set.

Nobody is pretending to already know it all, and thus nobody feels like they are waiting to be ‘caught out’ when they don’t live up to perfection.

Nobody is perfect, and pretending to be so can do nothing but set you up to fail.

Developing leadership skills

For information about the way, our programmes can help your leaders to support the whole workforce, to lead by example, and to foster a supportive culture, download our guide, email us at hello@askeurop.com or call us today on 01234 757575.

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