- June 12, 2019
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Leadership, Management
Last week, I wrote about the Impostor Syndrome (How Do Executives Deal With Impostor Syndrome?) and the effect it has on people. I said Impostor Syndrome is. . .
. . . the fear that you’re not good enough for the job you’re supposed to do, and that you’re going to be discovered and outed as a fraud.
The truth is the people who get Impostor Syndrome are not actual impostors. If anything, they’re eminently qualified and more than capable of doing the job; their nervousness and insecurity actually drives them to do a better job.
To make matters worse, they can’t tell anyone they have Impostor Syndrome because that would reveal their fraudulence and expose them as fakes anyway. So they silently stew in their fears and unease all by themselves.
I know I can’t dispel it just by telling you, but just know that most of the time, this is all just in your head. It’s not a reality or a true reflection of your abilities. You’re more than capable of doing the job, or they wouldn’t have hired you in the first place.
While Impostor Syndrome can be a problem — how many opportunities have you passed on or refused to try for because you thought you weren’t good enough? — I think it’s actually a healthy and helpful feeling to have if you want to be a high achiever.
After all, it’s that fear of being found out that drives many people to do their very best just so they can stay ahead of the nagging doubt that plagues most people. (The “Little Man,” as he’s sometimes called.) In order to stay ahead of their fear, people work harder to show that they’re not actually impostors and that they’re deserving of whatever opportunity or award they’ve gotten.
Even when people reach high levels of expertise and accomplishment, they still face those same fears and concerns they’ve had for the last several years. And I’m afraid it’s something you’re going to have to live with, but just remember that it’s what’s going to help you succeed, so learn to harness it and let it drive you instead.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Impostor Syndrome’s Opposite
On the other hand, I’ve found that the people who don’t feel that fear of exposure and failure are probably the ones who should have a healthy dose of it. They lack a sense of hubris and humility, and they believe their abilities are greater than they actually are.
This is what’s known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. People who fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger Effect are the ones who catch lucky breaks, are in the right place at the right time, and they think they achieved everything on their own merit, when nothing could be further from the truth.
They don’t actually have the skills and knowledge to carry them beyond where they should be, but circumstances in their life — the fortune of birth, other people’s hard work, and plain old nepotism — see them in those positions of “success” through no effort of their own.
These are the people who are “born on third base and grow up thinking they hit a triple.”
It’s also called illusory superiority, which “is a condition of cognitive bias wherein a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other persons.”
And all this is related to the Peter Principle, the concept where people are promoted to just beyond their level of competence.
The worst thing in the workplace is that manager who was promoted beyond their level of competence, but thinks they’re markedly better than their counterparts and even their colleagues at the previous level.
The believe they became managers because of their superior skills, when in actuality, they’re mediocre at best. And they’ve just been promoted to a place where they’re actually worse off than they were before. As a result, the department suffers, productivity falls, and morale plummets.
Managers who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect aren’t willing to learn, to improve their skills, to gain new knowledge, or to work to overcome their deficiencies and improve their shortcomings. They don’t believe they have any shortcomings and so they don’t take the steps to get better at their jobs.
People with Impostor Syndrome are constantly trying to improve where they’re lacking, looking for new skills, and gaining new experience. It’s why executives will join Mastermind Groups or return to school for an MBA. While it can be frustrating and stressful to deal with a building full of potential “Impostors,” it’s not nearly as damaging to a company’s future as having a management structure filled with Dunning-Kruger disciples, or executives who are there only by the circumstance of their birth or their relationships with upper management.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: Nevit Dilmen (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)