Accomplished but Anxious as a Corporate Leader or Executive?

impostor syndrome
Jun 2020

5 Signs You May Be Experiencing Impostor Syndrome

In his article, The Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake, Leadership Professor Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries writes “Individuals who feel like impostors can be found at all levels of an organization. The misgivings begin with the first job, when new hires are fraught with anxiety and particularly insecure about their ability to prove themselves.”  Progressive promotions to team lead, manager, director and C-level positions are tricky because a rising star must negotiate the difficult switch from being a specialist to becoming a generalist and develop new skills as a leader. Impostors experience their greatest challenge when they are promoted from senior management to CEO where feelings of self-doubt and anxiety are most pressing and distressing. Read on if you are accomplished but anxious as a corporate leader or executive.

If you are accomplished but anxious as a corporate leader or executive, here are five signs that you may be experiencing Impostor Syndrome, and what you can do to navigate the real and imagined pressure to perform at all levels.

  1. You work extra hours – evenings, weekend or while on vacation to make sure your reports and deliverables are impeccable so that you don’t give away your lack of knowledge or experience.  Being a workaholic is another way to manage and mask your constant worry about not being good enough.
  2. You notice openings for higher level positions but you don’t apply, even when encouraged to do so – because you believe you don’t have sufficient qualifications.  You fear being in that ‘fake it until you make’ learning-curve phase of a new role or job again. It’s just too nerve wracking.
  3. You are viewed as a high potential candidate for more advanced leadership roles but you hope it never happens.  In fact, you could find the possibility so distressing that you contemplate leaving the firm. You consider asking your doctor for mediation to relieve your anxiety or depression. You might even develop a mysterious chronic health condition that forces you to go on sick leave.
  4. You have been promoted to a new position and you feel inadequate to fulfill the role.  You find it especially difficult to take the reigns and speak up to your team, delegate responsibilities, hold others accountable or to handle conflict within the team.   Performance evaluations are especially distressing – both your own and the ones you are responsible for with your direct reports.
  5. It can be lonely at the top of your organization as CEO, especially when the buck stops with you.  You find it unsettling and difficult to make decisions, not sure if you can trust your own take on things.  You find yourself asking for more information, charts and opinions from your leadership team.  You might bring in consultants and experts to help you decide the best approach, or you decide not to decide for fear of making a big mistake and exposing your lack of expertise and competency.

As Albert Einstein was so famous for stating “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.   In order for you to overcome your misperceptions about your capabilities and worth, you need an outside perspective from someone you trust and can help you elevate your assessment of yourself and your accomplishments.

Depending on the level you are in your organization, that person could be your supervisor, mentor, HR advisor, internal or external leadership consultant or executive coach. Impostor feelings can be navigated by some straight-forward stress-reduction techniques and by adopting a deeper understanding of how you experience your perceptions – namely how your thoughts and emotions seem so convincing and real, when they are not. 

Want to learn more about Impostor Syndrome? 

Register for a 30 minute Clarity Conversation to find out if this is what is holding you back.

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