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How to overcome Imposter Syndrome in business

Phillip J Whitaker

November 12, 2019

Everyone at some point has an experience with imposter syndrome. Starting a business, and not dealing with it can really limit your success.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the feeling of being a fraud, phoney or feeling as if you are trying be someone you are not.

Interestingly, some of the best people I have worked are the ones who have openly admitted experiencing this phenomenon. I suspect in part that it is them being a victim of their own success. With people around them constantly praising their work in a way that they do not recognise, because they are overly critical of themselves. But because of that critical reflection upon themselves, they are constantly improving and thus creating this vicious circle which increases their feeling of being an imposter.

Common Approaches to overcome Imposter Syndrome

When I have read about imposter syndrome and how to deal with it — the advice seems to fall into two categories;

Ignore it — Advice I fundamentally disagree with. I believe if you start to ignore those feelings of self-doubt you are likely to miss opportunities to reflect. Reflection of your own performance is so important for you to improve, both professionally and personally.

Fake it —Again, advice I fundamentally disagree with. Similar to ignore it, but worse. Pretend to be something that you are not. Essentially, be what you most fear to be — an imposter. The fake it mantra often discusses ‘winging it’ whether by overstating your capabilities or taking on things that are outside of your perceived skill-set whilst also ignoring feelings of self-doubt. However whilst winging it, those feelings are probably going to founded in truth this time.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in general

I believe the only real solution is to deal with it head on by quantifying your knowledge/skills and obtaining factual information. Your feeling of being an imposter is likely through your inability to determine where you are in comparison to your feelings.

For skilled work, such as programming, engineering and nursing etc there are plenty of qualifications, review processes and exams that you can do to obtain that measure. Once you have that measure it will either confirm or deny your sensation.

Do not rely upon results that you obtained years ago. You could be falsely reinforcing a negative perception.

For example if you have imposter syndrome relating to maths because you failed it as a subject at school. But you are now teaching children at school and feel a fraud. What you have likely not realised is that throughout your life since then you have been subtly developing your maths skills. And when you take a math exam it will demonstrate the progress you have made.

Imposter Syndrome In Business

But what if your imposter syndrome is founded in business skills, such as building customer relationships, managing resources etc? Or in a skill that you can not find a qualification to quantify yourself for.

In that scenario you need to find a more creative way to obtain a measure of your success.

Build Feedback Loops — In business, asking for reviews or customers to complete satisfaction surveys is common place. The reason we do it is so we can quantify our success and address areas for improvement.

Do not be scared to create satisfaction surveys about yourself and send them to clients, suppliers and staff.

Make sure that the feedback is quantifiable through rating scales and detailed areas for improvement. It may also help to get someone else who is impartial to collate, record and present back to you the information on a regular schedule.

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