Studies show that at some point in their careers, 70 percent or more of workers experience impostor syndrome — feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that can persist despite a person’s education, experience and accomplishments.
Imposter syndrome can manifest in numerous ways, said Shami Anand, founder of Power Your Impact, LLC., during the Institute for Supply Management®’s (ISM®) Women’s Supply Management Community’s imposter syndrome panel discussion, held virtually last week. It can lead to fear of failure or feelings of inadequacy. It also can be caused by setting self-expectations too high, especially when taking on something new or during transition periods.
Panelist Lisa Marie, North American buy desk manager at Meta, offered a personal example of imposter syndrome: Despite thinking she wasn’t qualified, she applied for a position at the recommendation of a friend who worked at the company. When she got the position, which she called “a huge leap into a really competitive role,” she assumed it was due to “knowing someone.” She came to learn, however, that she had been hired on her own merits.
Imposter syndrome not only can inspire feelings of inadequacy but a fear that, as Marie said, “you’re going to be found out and all of a sudden they’re going to say, ‘She doesn't belong here. She shouldn't be sitting here.’ ” It’s giving others the credit, “when you should be giving it to yourself,” she said. Her hiring experience was pivotal in her understanding of imposter syndrome and realization of her accomplishments, she said.
Turning Off the ‘Shot Clock’
Camille Batiste, CPSM, C.P.M., senior vice president, global supply chain at ADM in Erlanger, Kentucky, noted that when she feels imposter syndrome, it’s usually when she has stepped out of her comfort zone — for example, when taking on a new role or moving to a new company. “When I am in my area of comfort and I know I can deliver and everything works, I don’t have to stretch,” she said. “I know my capabilities and feel OK. My experience of doubt though comes from setting very high expectations of myself, especially when taking on something new. I try to jump in … and do too much.”
Having a conversation about expectations with her manager has helped her through such situations, Batiste said: “My leader helped me put things into perspective, and to share his version of how he perceived my work, and that helped me with the imposter syndrome I was feeling.”
Marie concurred that setting expectations can help ease imposter syndrome issues when transitioning to a new role or hiring employees, “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten about starting a new role,” she said, “is, ‘You’re not in a basketball game, and there’s not a shot clock over your head to do something amazing. We’re not on a countdown as you start this role to make a big basket, bucket or score. Erase the shot clock from your mind and settle in.’ ”
Another panelist, Eric Craft, executive director, global operations supply chain at Collins Aerospace in Charlotte, North Carolina, noted that in addition to aligning to your leader’s expectations, connecting with what he calls “your board of directors — mentors and others who support you in the role and outside of the role” — can also help ease imposter syndrome feelings.
Most people, when accepting new roles, don’t want roles they already know, he says. Instead, they purposefully choose positions that they can also grow into and increase their capabilities. “So, making that connection and being comfortable with that stretch is something we have to challenge ourselves for, but that’s when the real growth opens up,” he said.
Overcoming (and Celebrating) Differences
Several studies suggest that women experience imposter syndrome to a greater extent than men, and that such factors as social norms and expectations, cultural biases and gender imbalance are drivers, Anand noted during the webinar. How can leaders promote a more culture that helps minimize the feelings of imposter syndrome?
The key for any leader is to build a safe environment that welcomes open discussions about feelings and experiences with imposter syndrome, said panelist Luis Concepcion, CPSM, CPSD, global category manager, construction, maintenance and facility services at DuPont. “Leaders can help their teams realize that such feelings are more common than rare,” he said, thus making team members not feel isolated. Leaders can then build on ways to help team members move ahead and work through those feelings.
The challenge is, Batiste said, “not so much women versus men, but it’s a feeling of differentness.” Yes, wanting and celebrating differences on a team is important. But creating an inclusive culture where imposter syndrome is discussed helps show that others have similar feelings and experiences “and that we’re not as different as we think we are,” she said.
When wrestling with imposter syndrome, Craft advised, “you need to go back and look at your resume or a few happy moments in your career. You need to remind yourself now and again that you didn’t lose it overnight. You aren’t going to step into a new role and all of a sudden forget everything that got you to (that point). Every now and again — this speaks to validation — pat yourself on your back. It’s not a ‘glory me’ moment, but one that helps fill your confidence again.”