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LTT Business Bulletin - February 2017



Suzanne Mercier, Director at Purpose to Profit, asks the

question “Is the Imposter Syndrome undermining your

leadership and business?”


Two years ago, I watched a video filmed at the recent Capital Ideas event through the Edmonton Journal in Canada. The film showcased three successful entrepreneurs talking about their experience with the Impostor Syndrome. Ray Muzyka, the third speaker, was co-founder of the highly successful role-playing games company Bio-Ware. Muzyka relayed his experience with the syndrome, describing the launch, the huge success and the emotional crash that came afterwards. His extreme anxiety about whether he would be able to repeat the enormous success he’d managed so far kept him awake at night.

I can relate having unknowingly been at the effect of the imposter syndrome for 20 years.

The Syndrome was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes when working with graduating PhD and Masters students. Illogically, these high achieving women were concerned about failing. Imes and Clance investigated further and identified that 70% of respondents experienced the syndrome at some stage in their career. And 33% of respondents experienced it at a chronic level. The symptoms included

  • feeling like a fake and fraud
  • focusing on their weaknesses and failures rather than their strengths and successes
  • putting their undeniable success down to good fortune, being in the right place at the right time or someone’s mistakenly positive view of their capabilities
  • becoming stressed that they may not be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat again. This is the feeling Muzyka described when being interviewed.

To understand both the challenge and opportunity, it’s important to note a few other factors relating to the syndrome:

  • the syndrome is latent until triggered
  • external situations trigger personal uncertainty
  • precisely which situations create the trigger depends on an individual’s upbringing and learned sensitivities

 Why the syndrome is a business issue

The Imposter Syndrome manifests as the feeling of not being good enough. It only hits high achieving people; those who have been successful at some level. That feeling of not being good enough causes us to either be blind to our talents and capabilities or write them off as not being valuable. As a result, we hamstring ourselves.

Leadership impacts every measurable dimension of business so our ability to lead effectively is critical. The syndrome can prevent us from stepping up and being the leaders we could be. It can get in the way of developing healthy businesses. We may fail to see opportunities, feel uncomfortable promoting our offering, procrastinate on decisions around key issues, put ourselves out there and hope no-one looks too closely.

When the syndrome impacts your people, it reduces their productivity, their ability to take feedback, their performance, level of engagement, innovation, and their willingness to step up as leaders. All these factors impact your bottom line! While you aren’t actually responsible for the minds of your people, ensuring your people are engaged and living to their potential remains untapped potential.

How can you move beyond the imposter syndrome?

As a start:

  1. Find your Purpose. Why are you leading your business? What’s the difference you seek to make and how does that influence your strategies and day-to-day actions?
  2. Lead by example. Authenticity is incredibly powerful. Yet it’s difficult to be authentic when we feel we’re not good enough. Learn about you. Seek feedback. Open up to new possibilities as a leader.
  3. Notice why, when, where and how the imposter syndrome comes up for you as a leader.
  4. Focus on Strengths. What are the qualities, talents, capabilities and successes you bring to your leadership?
  5. Reduce unnecessary uncertainty. Uncertainty creates energy and drive. However so much uncertainty is unnecessary. Find the balance and eliminate the cause of unnecessary uncertainty such as poor or absent communication, mixed messages, micro-management, changing direction without explanation.

Suzanne Mercier is a performance catalyst for leaders and business. She facilitates Purpose, Vision and strategies and helps identify bridges and barriers to performance to move beyond them. Suzanne is speaker, consultant, trainer and published author. For more information, visit Purpose to Profit,  or contact Suzanne on +61 400 995 942 and suzanne@purposetoprofit.com.au