The Imposter Syndrome and its effect on workplace performance

by 26 Apr 2012

The Imposter Syndrome is a totally distorted self-view – one that limits people’s perceptions of who they are and what they are capable of. The Syndrome was identified and researched by two psychologists – Drs. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes – in 1978.

They found that 70% of the talented and successful people they interviewed experienced feeling like a fake or fraud, dismissing their successes as good luck, fate or someone’s mistakenly positive view of them.

The Syndrome impacts men and women equally. However, the consequences of feeling like an imposter are more overt for a woman than for a man.

A survey of senior managers by the Institute of Leadership & Management in 2011 found half the women admitted feeling self-doubt, when compared to only 31% of the men, and were more hesitant to seek promotion.

Women are leaving the corporate workplace in droves, starting at first time manager level. Anecdotally, the cost to organisations of this migration is between 200 per cent and 500 per cent of the annual salary of the departing individual, encompassing recruitment, induction and loss of corporate knowledge from the previous incumbent.

While the Imposter Syndrome is not the only reason women leave, it certainly is one of the key unrecognised contributing factors.

How can women move beyond the Imposter Syndrome?

People who experience the syndrome occasionally can reduce its impact by improving their emotional intelligence (EI) – specifically their self-awareness and self-management. By learning and accepting their strengths and successes, they can become more personally integrated which gives them a solid foundation upon which to base further success. They can then build their Emotional Resilience (ER) which provides them with flexibility and positivity in uncertain times.

However, where someone experiences the syndrome at a chronic level – frequently and intensely, EI and ER are not enough. They need to recognise and deal with the way the Imposter Syndrome impacts them and the behaviours they engage in to keep themselves safe from discovery as the fakes and frauds they believe they are.

Five tips to help you move beyond the Imposter Syndrome

1. Become aware

Become aware of your actions. Awareness is the first stage of any change process. You need to understand how you perceive yourself, what behaviours you engage in and what impact those behaviours are having.

There is also a need to recognise the triggers that create uncertainty and set off feelings of being a fake or fraud. When you can see these triggers ahead of time, you can avoid or neutralise them.


2. Get to know and accept YOU

To reduce stress and experience fulfillment at work, acknowledge that you have the qualities, skills and talents to make a contribution. It is far better to focus on what you do really well and let someone else whose talents operate in that direction to handle the areas you aren’t strong in.


3. Use outcomes as feedback

Ask someone you truly trust to help you identify your qualities, strengths and successes or use situations to identify how you perceive people and situations around you. Start by examining the outcomes or results you achieve in any given situation and if they were not satisfactory examine the behaviours that led to those outcomes. Then track your behaviour back to what you thinking to lead you to your chosen behaviour. When you understand what motivates your behaviour, you have choice.


4. Find your purpose and vision

Anything that keeps you moving forward in the right direction is positive. Once you’re moving, you can ask yourself what is the contribution you want to make and why. Your purpose provides you with motivation and energy to overcome any challenges that may come up on your journey.


5. Anchor and celebrate success

When you see and accept your strengths and successes, you can celebrate and anchor them in your conscious and unconscious to build on in the future.


The key to success is to stop denying the talents, skills, qualities and accomplishments that represent truthfully where we are now, and to see the next level of your own potential.



About the author

Suzanne Mercier is CEO of Liberate Leadership, a business that helps shift mindsets that block success.

Suzanne will be leading the ‘Skirting Leadership’ workshop at Macquarie University’s Women, Management and Work conference taking place on 12-13 July 2012. The conference will empower women to take control of their career by building on, and embracing, their full potential to become influential leaders in their field.

For more information or if you would like to register your attendance please visit



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