Request a demo
Request a demo
Blog Post

Executive Imposter Syndrome: It’s More Common Than You Think

Everyone feels like they don’t belong on their first day in the new office—but what if that feeling persisted past day one? How about the entirety of your career, even as you climbed the ladder and became a successful executive? It’s called imposter syndrome (the illusion of being unfit or inadequate for a position despite evidence of success) and it’s more common than you may think. 

This phenomenon can be found at all levels of your organization. In this article, we explore three archetypes of experienced employees who may secretly struggle with executive imposter syndrome and learn about the basic tricks for dealing with the imposter syndrome successfully. There is no one-fits-all solution, so climb on board while we discuss:

  • The symptoms of this confidence-killing phenomenon for each of these employee archetypes
  • Why it’s not uncommon for people at all levels of your organization feel like imposters
  • How you and/or your employees can overcome it for success

1. The Overprepared Overachiever

You may not think that the all-star at the office—the “first in, last out” overachiever—would ever question his or her abilities, but the truth is that sometimes people overwork because they feel like they have something to prove. In fact, some of the most productive employees are most afraid of being outed as frauds, which leads to over preparing for every meeting, putting in the longest hours, and consistently fixating on that next big promotion or recognition.

Yet, when they ultimately receive those accolades, they often attribute it to luck or external circumstances rather than their own accomplishments—and try to work even harder to prove themselves all over again. Talk about a vicious cycle!

2. The Perfectionist Princess

Like the overachiever described above, the perfectionist employee can seem like the last person you need to worry about. After all, they probably do admirable work! But perfectionism has a dark side when it becomes obsessive and destructive, such as not being able to let small mistakes go or burning out in the quest to make everything just so.

In fact, perfectionism is often tied to procrastination; if an employee doesn’t feel that they can meet their demanding standards, they may push it off as long as possible to avoid “failure.” Do you have a notorious procrastinator in your midst? They may be simply struggling with lofty standards and the fear of inadequacy.

3. The Shy CEO

If new hires are on one end of the spectrum, CEOs are on the other. People tend to look to these executives as all-knowing, when in reality they can feel as lost as a new hire on any given day. Gasp! It can’t be true, right? A survey conducted by Vantage Hill Partners found that being thought of as incompetent is the number one fear of executives around the world.

As a result, some CEOs may become more withdrawn, falling victim to executive imposter syndrome. In another study of executives, 60% of respondents admitted that their fears affected their behavior with fellow company leaders. These fears also led to some pretty nasty stuff, including:

  • A lack of honest conversations
  • Tolerating poor behavior
  • Silo thinking
  • Lack of ownership and follow-through
  • Dishonesty among senior leaders
  • Participation in office politics

Let’s Call It What It Is (and Then Fix It)

As you can see, imposter syndrome comes in many forms… and it’s not just for new hires. Luckily, the solution to this widespread issue is simple (though we are not saying it’s easy):

  • Accept imposter syndrome rather than avoiding it—and accept that it’s okay to feel like an imposter at all levels of your career.
  • Recognize imposter syndrome for what it is: an illusion of being underprepared in some way, which can stop you from achieving your full potential or acting in your best interest.
  • After recognizing the problem, proactively combat it with employee cultureboarding at all levels of your organization.

For instance, implement a new hire orientation process that is customized for your organization’s culture, business objectives, and employee expectations. Develop a mentorship program that is designed to help employees at all levels recognize their accomplishments, cultivate supportive workplace relationships, and develop a healthy work-life balance.

Ensure that new managers get the on-the-job training that they need to switch from a subordinate to a manager mentality. And most important, let us help you defeat imposter syndrome at your organization.

Schedule a demo of our customized onboarding software designed to help new hires, executives, and everyone in between.


Topics: Onboarding , HR
Subscribe to email updates