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Simple strategies for overcoming impostor syndrome

In today’s environment, it’s probably not a secret that many business professionals are facing stress and anxiety, both in the workplace and at home. This unfortunate reality means all leaders should make mental health a priority and one challenge professionals are experiencing at an ever-increasing rate is imposter syndrome.

Dr. Pauline Clance first described impostor syndrome in 1985 as an experience of “Intense feelings that achievements are undeserved and worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud.” Surprisingly, the strongest performers are most at risk, feeling inadequate in spite of their success and achievements. These are often your team’s best players, which makes imposter syndrome tough to detect.

Professionals may be overwhelmed and burned out trying to position for company success amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and meeting demands on all fronts. With all of us needing extra endurance these days, impostor syndrome may become a tremendous obstacle for you and for your colleagues. But with the following strategies, you’ll be equipped to improve your own mindset, and help your colleagues who struggle with imposter syndrome to overcome it .

1. Include positive feedback

Research has shown that individuals struggling with impostor syndrome don’t accurately attribute good performance to their capabilities. Instead, they believe their success is only due to luck or help from others. Many performance reviews, self-analyses and manager meetings may focus on individual weaknesses and mistakes. But you’ll improve the mental health of your employees (and yourself!) if you also take time to celebrate achievements.

You can make a big difference in the fight against impostor syndrome by clearly pointing out how good results have come about as a result of skills and capabilities. During feedback opportunities, paint a clear picture of how a successful sales call or good business decision came from a colleague’s good judgment. This technique breaks through the flawed logic of impostor syndrome to help professionals see all that they’re capable of achieving.

2. Highlight strengths

What does each colleague bring to the team? Highlighting valuable strengths can help impostor syndrome and feelings of inadequacy disappear. Impostor syndrome researcher Valerie Young revealed that some who experience this challenge wish to see themselves as experts. If they don’t consider themselves knowledgeable enough in an area, they can quickly become discouraged and quit contributing.

Your team may benefit from going through a training program, like Don Clifton’s StrengthsFinder , to determine individual strengths and how they apply in the workplace. Discovering important skills such as analytical thinking, ideation or empathy can change the way professionals see themselves and their success in the workplace. Celebrating each other’s’ achievements and express gratitude for one another can be a positive addition.

3. Encourage outside support

If strategies you’re implementing in the office don’t seem to make a difference, encourage colleagues to seek support outside of the workplace. A university study revealed that talking with someone outside of your industry can help you overcome impostor syndrome by seeing a bigger picture.

While employees may have mentors and trusted peers within their area of focus, meeting with someone in another line of work can also be helpful. Family and friends can be a great place to start, but there are more opportunities available to find support.

Inviting colleagues to a networking group or an employee resource group can be an effective way for them to meet a new support system. As their system expands, they can lay groundwork for impostor syndrome to diminish. Research has shown that strong relationships have a huge positive impact on health and wellness. Sharing in-person or remote opportunities to get to know other professionals can lead to greater mental health for everyone involved.

4. Watch your own reaction

Those struggling with impostor syndrome often focus on negative feelings rather than facts. When feedback comes through or big projects are assigned, carefully evaluate your reaction.

Find yourself starting to spiral? Press pause and make a list of what’s really going on. If you’ve made a mistake or made the wrong call, reframe failure as an opportunity to learn. If you’re feeling poorly equipped for a new assignment, remind yourself that it’s normal not to have all the answers and you’ll find out more as you move forward. When you can get out of your head and back into reality, you can overcome unconscious impostor syndrome.

For managers, this might take careful observation of employees. If they seem discouraged by something, help them see the facts so they can move on with confidence.

With these key strategies, you can empower your employees to defeat imposter syndrome, which is an investment in your organization’s future success. Overcoming impostor syndrome can prepare your team to achieve critical goals and lead your organization through change.

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