Impostor syndrome, which includes the inability to internalize accomplishments and the constant fear of being exposed as a fraud, can adversely impact your development as a leader.  While we often discuss how impostor syndrome can affect you generally in the workplace or during a job search (e.g. prevents you from seeking promotions, asking for a raise, or talking about your achievements, etc.), we often overlook how it can influence your leadership development. Increasing your awareness of how impostor syndrome can negatively shape your leadership approach is a critical first step in defeating your impostor feelings, and improving your leadership skills.  The following are some ways that impostor syndrome can affect your leadership style in the workplace:

  1. Micro-management of team members

    one of the hallmarks of impostor syndrome is perfectionism, since many individuals with impostor syndrome believe that if they never make a mistake, they will be less likely to be exposed as incompetent or as a fraud. Therefore, leaders with impostor syndrome may be just as concerned about their team members making mistakes, and as a result, micro-manage them.  Such micro-management can lead to resentment and actually decrease productivity & commitment of team members.

  2. Constantly being critical while offering little to no praise

    when you feel like an impostor, your own internal critic is always evaluating your efforts negatively.  In your leadership position, you may apply that same approach to your team members.  While constructive feedback is certainly important for growth and development, constant criticism with little to no praise is a recipe for poor leadership outcomes and a team revolt.

  3. Overworking and expecting your team members to do the same

    your impostor syndrome can convince you that the only way to not be revealed as incompetent or as a fraud is to work harder.  This can result in overworking and burnout.  As a leader, you may expect the same level of overworking (e.g. sending emails at all hours of the night and weekends) from your team members, which can lead to exhaustion, frustration, poor morale, and high staff turnover.

  4. Indecisiveness

    your fear and anxiety about being discovered as not being qualified for your leadership role can result in you being unable to make quick and clear decisions.  You may also continually second-guess your decisions publicly, which can undermine your credibility, and cause team members & senior leaders to lose confidence in you.

  5. Reluctance to take risks

    your concern about not being exposed as a fraud, can cause you to be risk averse, which can limit innovation and produce a sense of stagnation among your team members.  Such stagnation can severely hamper your efforts to motivate your team and to raise their performance.

It is evident that impostor syndrome can have a corrosive effect on your leadership development.  The good news is that impostor syndrome can be defeated and your leadership approach can be improved. The first step in doing so is to recognize these types of leadership behaviors influenced by it.  Once you have this awareness, you can begin the process of changing your approach to better support your team, and to continue to advance as a leader.

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