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Shame, fear and guilt – the ‘imposter phenomenon’ holding some managers back

Management

Do you ever feel like you aren’t good enough for the job you have, and any success you experience is due to luck?

If so, you could be experiencing the ‘impostor phenomenon’, according to new research exploring the way that people in different industries think their work performance and long-term career aspirations are impacted by negative views of their ability.

“The imposter phenomenon (IP) is the feeling that one’s success is due to unrelated factors, rather than one’s competence and qualifications,” said Professor Helena Gonzalez-Gomez from the NEOMA Business School, who was involved in carrying out the research.

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Using four studies with different methodologies and a total of 648 employees in US and Europe, the researchers investigated the effects of IP on performance and career outcomes.

They found that because IP is linked to a fear of being exposed as a fraud, IP in the workplace can influence outcomes such as employee commitment, stress, coping, or job satisfaction directly.

“Our findings reveal that in both simulated and recalled work situations, impostors are likely to feel shame, particularly when they attribute failure to themselves, as well having a negative effect on creativity,” said Professor Gonzalez-Gomez.

The researchers also found that IP is also related to the likelihood of an employee finding a job elsewhere, and also links to lower career success in terms of number of positive appraisals and promotions over one’s career.

Ultimately, this research can be used for organisations and managers wishing to develop the talent of individuals with the IP.

For example, because impostors believe they are failing at work, managerial feedback that avoids direct attributions of personal failure and rather focuses on how to improve performance in a more neutral manner is likely to increase creativity in individuals with IP.

The researchers also explain that because those who feel like impostors tend to underestimate their abilities, managers could also use appraisal and promotion tools that are more strongly weighted towards externally assessed performance, rather than towards self-assessment.

These tools could be a useful for enabling more successful career advancement for individuals with IP.

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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