How To Tell If Your Company Is A Secret Breeding-Ground For Imposter Syndrome [Episode 043]

How can you tell if your company is a secret breeding ground for Imposter Syndrome? This episode is for you if you work for an organisation where you secretly think that maybe it's making Imposter Syndrome worse and you want to be able to find out how and why, and maybe have that conversation...

... or if you're a line manager, business leader, or HR professional, coach or therapist, and you want to understand more about the 3 Pillars Of Imposter Syndrome, and how these work in organisations, to either help people be immune to Imposter Syndrome, or make it much more likely that it's going to play a daily part of their working lives.

What You'll Discover Today

  • What is Imposter Syndrome and how to spot the warning signs
  • The 3 pillars of Imposter Syndrome, and which one is hardest to change
  • 5 common cultural factors that make Imposter Syndrome worse
  • 3 super-common environmental factors
  • 3 mistakes I see companies making with the habits pillar
  • Are there any specific industries that are more prone to fostering imposter syndrome?
  • Are there any specific leadership behaviours or management approaches that can exacerbate imposter syndrome within an organisation?
  • What strategies or resources can leaders and managers implement to identify and address imposter syndrome within their teams?

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Note: this is an AI-generated transcript, so please forgive typos.

And welcome to Episode 43 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today we are talking about, is your company a secret breeding ground for imposter syndrome? This episode is for you if you work for an organisation where you secretly think that maybe it's making imposter syndrome worse, you want to be able to find out how and why and maybe have that conversation. Or if you're a line manager, business leader, HR professional, mental health first aider, a coach, or therapist, and you want to understand more about the three pillars of imposter syndrome and how these work in organisations to either help people be immune to imposter syndrome or make it much more likely that it's going to play a daily part of their working lives. With 62% of employees experiencing imposter syndrome daily or regularly in the past year alone to a level that will be impacting their performance and well-being, and with one in nine employees currently thinking of quitting their job every single day due to imposter syndrome or burnout, the two are very closely linked from our research, this is a really important topic. When I research this, I find it fascinating how in some organisations, imposter syndrome rates are incredibly low, which is wonderful to hear, whereas in others it's beyond epidemic levels.

Why is this? That's what we're going to be covering today. We're going to talk about before we start, a quick refresh on what is imposter syndrome and how to spot the warning signs. The three pillars of imposter syndrome and which one is the hardest to change. I'm going to take you through five common factors in company culture that can make imposter syndrome worse and three environmental factors, plus three mistakes I see companies making with habits and wellbeing that can exacerbate imposter syndrome without intending to. We'll look at whether there are any specific industries that are more prone to fostering imposter syndrome, specific leadership behaviours or management approaches that can make it worse, and what strategies or resources leaders and line managers can implement to identify and address imposter syndrome with their teams. So what is imposter syndrome? I define it as the secret fear of being found out as not good enough despite external world evidence that you're doing really well, or the secret fear of others judging us the way we judge ourselves. If this is something you recognise in yourself, you're probably nodding your head right now. If, however, it's not, and you hear those two definitions and think, No, that's not really me, then great, that's fantastic news.

But look around the room, almost two thirds of your colleagues will be experiencing this daily or regularly. So how to spot the warning signs? It's even harder with remote working because people can hide behind a camera. And to be fair, even most people in the office now, the majority of meetings are virtual. So you have to get really good at watching for the warning signs. It might be somebody not going for an opportunity or promotion that you thought would be right up their street. They might not be speaking up with an idea that you know that they've had, holding back, toning down their message in a presentation. The four P's of imposter syndrome, perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people pleasing. They might be working incredibly long hours due to perfectionism. They might be struggling for the same reason to make decisions. Procrastination, they're full of busyness and overwhelm, but they're not really making progress, like they're running around in circles. Project paralysis, they're simply not touching that particular set of tasks, using the adrenaline of the deadline to push on through their fears. People pleasing, taking on things that aren't really their job, and volunteering for things that really they shouldn't be touching when they're already overwhelmed or changing their priorities at the end of every meeting to please what was wanted by the people in there.

These are some of the common warning signs. My research studies over the last 20 years have found there are three pillars of imposter syndrome, and one of them is really hard to change, but it's the one that can have the most impact. They are culture, environment, habits. The culture in this context, I'm talking today about company culture, but it can be national culture, or a family culture, or a faith based culture, or a team culture. That's about how the world works, how things are done here, what's important here, what's valued here, that's the culture. The environment is the practical physical embodiment of the culture. What does it mean to us on a practical day to day level? Habits is about our personal habits, the stuff that's running a long way below the conscious surface, driven by the unconscious mind that is supported or sabotaged by confidence or our secret fear of being found out as a fraud. The hardest one of these to change is the company culture. Particularly in a large organisation, you've got an awful lot of hearts and minds to win over. It's totally doable, though, with the right approach. It's something I specialise in supporting companies with using my process called the Hope Matrix.

And yet, despite being hardest to do, changing the company culture is the one that has by far the fastest and biggest impact on people's experience of whether they are struggling or thriving. So there are five common cultural factors I want to talk about today in brief that make imposter syndrome worse. The first one is a culture that's competitive, where people are regularly judged or ranked. Now, I know that there are some industries like sales, for example, where you are ranked, you are compared to your peers. At the end of each quarter or the end of each month, you've got the employee of the month and you've got somebody sitting there at the bottom of the pile every month going, I'm just not good enough. But it goes beyond that team, where there's a culture in general of being compared with others and proclaimed to be better or worse, good enough or not, this is going to trigger imposter syndrome because it is the secret fear of others judging us the way we're judging ourselves. And in that culture, that judging is not secret, it's public. Second cultural factor is the alpha male push on through culture in some organisations that like, pull your socks up, grit your teeth, push on through the fear.

Everybody's tough here. In England, that British stiff upper lip, okay, I've just chopped my leg off, my arm off; I've just been shot through the heart with an arrow, but I'm still fighting. This push on through makes imposter syndrome much worse. I've got a whole separate podcast episode for you on that. If you want to know the truth about do it scared and why pushing on through the fear is actually such a bad idea, but that doesn't mean you should wait until you're not feeling scared anymore. That is episode 29, the truth about do it scared. Link is in the show notes. Moving on to the third factor, the taboo. In the vast majority of organisations outside of talking to HR, mentioning imposter syndrome is taboo and considered career limiting. One of the reasons I do the work I do is I am on a mission to be to remove the taboo and the deep shame that people feel about imposter syndrome. So asking for help with it becomes as acceptable as asking for help with, say, Microsoft Excel. People running imposter syndrome already feel a lot of shame, guilt, beating themselves up, self judging. If they're in a culture where you're not supposed to be vulnerable, where you're meant to be fine, where high performance and overachieving are valued, then they're never going to speak up and ask for help.

But there are simple things, psychological safety at work is a legal requirement here in the UK. There are simple things an organisation and employer can do to actually help with imposter syndrome, to support people so that they can clear it and thrive even more. You want people with high potential, high achievers, help them clear out the hidden blocks that have been making themselves sabotage, and you will watch their performance skyrocket. They'll create breakthroughs really fast. Fourth cultural factor, toxic teams. I run a hybrid coaching program called Stepping Up to Lead for people who are going from line manager into leadership roles. I don't do much of the coaching myself anymore. I've got my certified Master Coaches who do a fantastic job on that. What we find, though, with the majority of clients where they've got deep imposter syndrome that they've used their coping strategies for decades, often, is there was an episode of being in a toxic team or having a toxic line manager that kicked it off. I've seen, over the last 20 years, a thriving team turned toxic in as few as six weeks when somebody is promoted into a position that means their old imposter syndrome coping strategies no longer work, and they subconsciously project their inner pain onto their team members.

This is a really big issue and it needs dealing with. If you want to talk about how, there's a link to get in touch with me in the show notes to book a call. Let's talk about this. Then the fifth cultural factor is something I call toxic resilience, where burnout becomes a badge of honour, having to bounce back gritted teeth determination from adversity and challenges, many of which actually shouldn't be part of the working experience, but having to show up again the next day as though everything is fine. Do you want to know more about toxic resilience? I've actually got a whole podcast episode for you on it, and it's actually part of my Soultuitive Leaders Podcast. Episode number 31, there'll be a link in the show notes if you want to go and have a listen to that. Those are five cultural factors. How about some environmental factors? I want to share three of those. So the first one is pings. Notifications, particularly if they make a sound or flash. This is something I've been researching as part of my ongoing burnout research studies. And we found that 88% of employees don't like pings.

They find them at least distracting. But for 48%, it immediately triggers their fight-flight-freeze response. They feel under pressure to respond even if they're busy. And for7 %, they dread them. They feel totally overwhelmed. Now, one of the problems with this, with imposter syndrome, is that the higher somebody's stress levels, the less effective their imposter syndrome coping strategies are. And stress and imposter syndrome are linked because they fire off the same biochemical reactions in the body with the fight-flight-freeze sympathetic nervous system stress hormones. So it's directly linked to burnout. If somebody is sitting there and their ping goes off and it fires off the stress panic fight-flight-freeze response in them, that is going to stop them working effectively. It stops them concentrating. It impacts their productivity, their performance. And you can imagine how that makes the fear of being found out is not good enough, even worse. The second one is too many meetings. I mean, this is just insane. I have lost count of how many of my clients and students have a full day of back to back meetings without even time for lunch or a comfort break, sometimes doubled up with multiple meetings in one time slot.

The only time they can actually get their work done is after the working day. I even have clients and students who've been taking annual leave, so paid vacation to catch up with work just to have a day free of meetings. If somebody's in a role where they've got to make strategic recommendations, come up with ideas and be creative, back to back meetings prevent that, that impacts their confidence, their ability to do their job well, and that makes imposter syndrome worse. And then the third factor I want to mention under environment today is about the difference between introverts and extroverts. So introvert and extrovert doesn't have anything to do about whether someone shy. You can be an extrovert or an introvert and be shy or confident and not shy. It's from the Carl Jung work about where do we get our energy? An extrovert tends to get their energy from being around other people, from the noise, the buzz. An introvert does their best work and gets their energy from quiet and solitude. It doesn't mean that all introverts are wallflowers and all extroverts are party animals. It's about what gives us energy and what takes energy.

Now, for an introvert, if they're dragged into an office that's an open, planned working environment that's noisy, that's no boundaries, they're going to really struggle to concentrate and perform. This makes imposter syndrome worse because they're collecting outside world data that they're not performing to the standard they think they should be. Similarly, taking an extrovert and asking them to work completely from home on their own can create increased stress, low energy, having to push on through that toxic resilience, and that can make their imposter syndrome worse. It's a sliding scale. It's not on and off. You can be somewhere, mostly extrovert but introvert in some ways, and it's also context dependent. But as a rough idea, this is one of the other environmental factors. Some working environments, depending on what your preference is on introvert and extrovert, can either boost your batteries and your energy levels and your performance, or it can drain them. The episode that I suggest you go and have a listen to if you want to find out more about imposter syndrome and how it impacts introverts versus extroverts, is Episode 31 of this podcast called Imposter Syndrome and Personality Types, Breaking the Introvert Myth.

You can either find that wherever you love to get your podcasts. It's Episode 31 of Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast, or there's a link to it in the show notes. And then it's three mistakes I see companies making with the habits pillar, the personal habits. The first one is no soft skills support or minuscule L&D budget. I know we can't possibly pay to help somebody with who they are. We can only actually fund their work skills. And I get it, money is tight, but investing in people's confidence and helping them to clear out imposter syndrome pays back a hundredfold. It helps with creativity, it helps with team dynamics, it helps with performance, with productivity. Bottom line, profits. And the investment doesn't actually need to be that big. For example, when we work with organisations, we actually have solutions for as low as just £200. And that, imagine, if that person just comes up with one more idea. Remember that one in nine that's thinking about quitting every day due to this? Think about how much it costs to replace them. They estimate it costs an entire year's salary to replace somebody who's in a managerial position upwards when they quit their job.

Not to mention the missed opportunities and potentially the other team members you'll also lose because they're having to carry that extra workload and they're burning out and going off on long term sick or leave of absence or asking for sabbaticals. So a little bit of investment upfront, helping people with the right tools, because classic coaching doesn't actually work for imposter syndrome, which we've covered in other episodes, can pay dividends really quickly. Another factor I'm seeing in the habits pillar from organisations, another mistake that's really well intentioned is using mental health first aid as unqualified coaches and councillors. Now, I think this is a really serious issue and I think we'll see court cases on this soon, because these are people who've been trained how to catch and pass in a crisis. They have not been trained to help people with self doubt and anxiety and the worry about being found out it's not good enough and imposter syndrome and confidence. But they're being used as inhouse coaches. Not only do they not have the training to do that, or the other thing I'm seeing is they're being used to design wellbeing initiatives, which blows my mind because that's not what they've been trained to do and it's not a fair ask.

They haven't been trained in the skills to actually share the tools that work to help people, but also they don't have the experience and the coaching supervision to be able to safely have somebody pour their heart out to them and not take that home. It's an unreasonable ask. Then the third thing I'm seeing on habits is a lot of organisations creating fantastic wellbeing initiatives, but without the understanding of how the culture and the environment also impact wellbeing. If you have a division that's got a toxic leader at the top, no amount of bean bags in meeting rooms and massages at lunchtime is going to fix the problems that causes. I'm often asked, are there any specific industries that are more prone to fostering imposter syndrome? There are no hard and fast rules, but when people do our scorecard, which is a research-backed quiz style assessment tool that gives you your imposter syndrome score, which of the three hidden drivers is the biggest factor for you, and a personalised action plan, you can get that at There are industries that routinely score very high. They try to tend to be very left brain analytical industries where the work you do is right or wrong, particularly if there's a high degree of compliance required.

So, for example, financial industries, consulting, law is another huge area. Consulting is a really tough one as well because you feel like you're only as good as your last project and you go into an environment where you might not know much. And part of your genius is being able to get up to speed and almost know more than the client in about three nanoseconds. But that's a really good way to be worried about being found out as a fraud, because when you start out, you don't have the skills, knowledge, and experience that they do. But I've seen it across all industries. It's particularly prevalent as well in academia, partly because of how judgmental it can be, and also the whole thing with peer reviewing research. You can pour your heart into a project for years only to have it ripped to shred at the peer review stage, completely destroying your confidence. So are there any specific leadership behaviours or management approaches that can exacerbate imposter syndrome within an organisation? One of them is constructive criticism. If you don't mind feedback at all and you pass it on to somebody with imposter syndrome, in 82% of cases, you can cause that person to seriously wobble if the feedback is not given the right way.

In fact, in a research study I did last year, we found that 77% of line managers hated or dreaded performance reviews even when they were doing the giving rather than being on the receiving end. Performance review appraisal systems, feedback systems, need to be redesigned to be imposter syndrome safe to get past the filters because even praise caused 75% of people to wobble. One of the things I can do is actually to work with an organisation to help you to adapt your performance review system to make it so it really supports everybody to thrive. Another really important thing to do as a leader or a line manager is actually to deal with your own imposter syndrome if you're running it, because otherwise, your coping strategies will impact your team. Particularly if one of your coping strategies, for example, is perfectionism, then that gets passed on to the team very easily as becoming a micromanaging bully boss. Another one that affects the team is procrastination. You are constantly too busy and overwhelmed and will struggle to be able to be present and be there for them in the coaching role that actually most line managers and leaders now need to be taking.

So the more work you can do to get the right support that actually works, that goes beyond the mindset level of classic coaching to clear out your own imposter syndrome, the more successfully you can lead your team. This also makes it a lot easier for you to spot imposter syndrome in team members and be able to direct them to people within your organisation who can really help. Then the third factor I'm seeing is lack of coaching skills. It is not your job as a line manager or a leader to be able to help somebody to completely fix imposter syndrome. They will need referring on. One of my big passions is actually to help organisations be self sufficient in that by running certification programmes. So you've got your own inhouse facilitators and master coaches working on this. But your job is still coaching and being able to have those conversations without fear, being able to know how to give the feedback, what support somebody might need to support the work they're doing elsewhere to clear their own imposter syndrome. And then finally for today's quite a long one. Thank you for bearing with me. I hope you had a cup of tea.

Is what strategies or resources can leaders and managers implement to identify and address imposter syndrome within their teams? So it is essential to do the work on feedback and performance reviews to make them so they actually work for the 62% of your team members who are running imposter syndrome daily or regularly. That's actually surprisingly easy to do. Once we've done the analysis, we can work with you to support that. Another thing is remove the taboo. Make sure every line manager has had training on imposter syndrome and its impact on burnout so they actually know how to spot the warning signs and they can start that in the moment work with people while they pass them on to somebody else. And the who to pass them on to? Make sure you've got in-house certified experts. You don't just pass them on to the mental health first-aiders for tea and sympathy and expect these poor, wonderful souls to create breakthroughs and miracles. It is not going to work. It is going to make it worse. It's not fair on anyone. Talk to me about my Imposter Syndrome First-Aider facilitator training, getting some Master Coaches in-house.

Then you've got people who are independent of your teams where you can send people through to them for support. We also run online courses such as my Imposter Syndrome Bootcamp, which is a hybrid training and coaching program, Stepping Up To Lead for people going from line managers into leadership roles. The support is there. It's surprisingly cost effective and people can start creating breakthroughs even by the end of their very first day on working on this. You can suggest that a team member takes my scorecard. Then they get an objective analysis of whether or not they're running imposter syndrome and what kind they're running. The other thing that you can do, if you found this episode useful, I have a free Masterclass for you. It's instant access and it is all about how to spot the warning signs, what specifically you can do as a line manager to support people in clearing imposter syndrome, with really practical how to and next steps. It's already had hundreds and hundreds of people watch it, absolutely raving about it. So if you want to go and watch that as your next step, it's at

Link is in the show notes and I really can't wait to share that with you. That's an absolutely gold dust piece of training. you have a very well spent hour of your time. So that wraps up what I want to cover today. Make sure you join in the discussion on this. There are links in the show notes to where we're talking about this over on LinkedIn and on Instagram. How do you see your organisation? I think it's either breeding imposter syndrome or fostering a culture where people feel safe to be who they really are without judging themselves to fulfill their potential? And I'll be back next time with the next installment. In the meantime, I hope you have an amazing week.

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About the author

Clare Josa

Clare is considered a global authority in the fields of Imposter Syndrome, burnout and toxic resilience, and has been an international keynote speaker for over 20 years.

The author of 8 books, a reformed engineer and the former Head of Market Research for one of the world's most disruptive brands, she blends research-backed practical inspiration with demystified ancient wisdom, to help you create breakthroughs in ways that are fast, fun and forever.

Want to find out your Imposter Syndrome Score? Take Clare's free research-backed, quiz-style assessment and get your score plus a personalised action plan in the next 3 minutes.

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