So often people come to me in the depths of imposter syndrome, they book a time to have me help them overcome imposter syndrome and they cancel before we get started. Why? Generally, it’s because they believe that it’s no longer a problem. The reality is that they are no longer in the depths of it and it’s not causing them issues.
Until it rears its head again.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
I get asked this a lot and I clamber at an answer because how it presents can be so personal, however at its root it is the same:
“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve all they have achieved.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome)
Impact of imposter syndrome on business
The most common way I see Imposter Syndrome impacting a business is a lack of marketing. A fear of putting oneself “out there”, fear of criticism, fear of getting it wrong, fear of embarrassment, fear of competitors, not being good enough, not getting any sales. So instead, they don’t market, they don’t promote, they don’t send newsletters. Nothing.
The next way I see Imposter Syndrome appearing is not asking for the sale. I often hear, “but I’m not good at selling”, “selling seems slimey and sleezy”, “what if they say no”, “what if I’m pricing too high”, “I don’t know what to say”. So they don’t. They don’t send the proposal, they don’t put calls to action in emails or social media posts. They don’t sell.
The final way I see it turning up is not achieving goals, and then what’s worse, ‘bashing’ themselves up for not achieving them. They hide behind perfectionism, dreaming too big, leaving it to the last minute, not getting started (which is really a symptom of it all).
So how do they overcome imposter syndrome and repair these gaps in their business? Sometimes automating social media helps, removing the need to post every week or write a call to action on every post. If we set and forget we avoid the pre-post jitters. Getting the business owner to realise that asking for the sale is not about them, it’s about the person receiving the service or product and how it will benefit them. We discuss time management and realistic goals that match their personal drivers and the mission they have for their business; having this alignment brings the goal back to a personal level rather than being at an unrealistic arm’s length. For the biggies, we look at the story that feeds the imposter syndrome and deal with it once and for all. While strategies to overcome blips help along the road, charting a new path that’s based in fact and not belief sees business owners done with the imposter syndrome story that stops them for being that tall poppy, tooting their horn, being pair their worth, stepping into the limelight, and reaching their goals.
Impact of the boss’ imposter syndrome on their staff
I totally understand how overwhelming having staff can be. When I was in my mid-30s I went from being the most junior member of a team to the boss – overnight. It was my first role managing more than one person and I was the second youngest. I was as green as can be! I second-guessed every move I made and wondered how in the heck I was going to achieve all the things my boss wanted me to do. Lucky for you that I did work it out because it was how I came to the system I use to motivate people, it was this role that had me motivating a team no previous manager could.
A boss with imposter syndrome lacks confidence and a boss without confidence struggles to instil confidence in their team. (You can’t pour from an empty cup) When staff lack confidence in the person they are meant to look to for guidance, they can feel unsupported and that there’s no one at the helm and the business lacks or has insufficient leadership. Businesses will be fortunate if staff stay in these situations, it’s likely that they will if they believe in the mission of the business and serving the community.
So how do you overcome imposter syndrome as a boss? Well, you could try faking it until you make it but that is a temporary fix, you’ll likely tire, and it’s likely that your staff will catch you out and you can further damage their trust. Unless you also work on yourself at the same time. (Like I mentioned in the previous section)
Impact of a business owner’s imposter syndrome on their clients
Much like staff, imposter syndrome can erode trust and confidence. Clients may stay in the long-term because they believe in the business owner and can see past the imposter syndrome. Some will leave because they no longer have the energy or patience to support the business and its owner. Regardless of if the money stays or goes, the trust and confidence has left and what stays is a sense of duty (not the best foundation for any relationship).
The other issue relates back to the business and the lack of marketing, the lack of sales, and the lack of communication. Imposter syndrome can prevent a business owner from undertaking these tasks, as previously discussed. A lack of communication with clients definitely breaks trust, confidence and a sense of being reliable.
So how do you overcome imposter syndrome with your clients? If you can, be honest. Apologise for dropping the ball. A dedicated client will be able to understand, they are the ones you want to keep. If there are particular tasks like invoicing, emails, follow-ups that trigger Imposter Syndrome then look into outsourcing them. There are people out there who enjoy all of the tasks you don’t. And keep working on yourself.
Impact of a business owner’s imposter syndrome on their family & friends
Let’s assume that the friends and family are behind the business owner, wanting them to succeed, supportive, encouraging. Bring in a beloved business owner who they see putting blocks, obstacles, not carrying through with things – it’s heartbreaking. It’s hard to watch someone you believe is so capable hold themselves back. You try to encourage, help, goad, beg, bug, in the end you wonder if it’s all worth it because it all seems to fall on deaf ears. And if the business owner isn’t prepared to do anything about it and they don’t seem bothered by it then why would friends and family continue to be bothered and invest all their time and energy?
So how do you overcome the impact of imposter syndrome with your friends and family? Talk to them. Be honest with them. Ask for their help. Ask for them to call you out when they see you getting in your own way. Ask them to help do the things you struggle to do. You still need to do the work in overcoming your own imposter syndrome, they can be there for you through it but it’s your story and you need to unpack it.
Impact of a business owner’s imposter syndrome on themselves
You’ve got all these grand plans and once again you’ve gotten in your own way and it’s not happened. Social media isn’t being posted. Emails aren’t sent. Sales proposals aren’t done. All because of the creeping doubt that holds you in your tracks. It’s frustrating, disappointing, infuriating, crushing. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that you’re not any good and you’re set to fail, all because you stop yourself from actually doing what you’re more than capable of doing – all thanks to that niggling self-doubt story.
So how do you overcome the impact of imposter syndrome on yourself? Firstly, you’re not alone. Many ambitious people get in their own way. We can be our own worst enemy. Extend yourself the compassion you would to a friend, family member or close colleague. Arm yourself with a toolkit to get you through the bumps. Realise that all of these steps do not resolve the cause of the imposter syndrome and to truly overcome imposter syndrome you need to address the cause – the story you tell yourself about you, your abilities, your worth. I won’t lie, it can be tough and confronting work but when it’s resolved there’s peace.
When a business owner overcomes imposter syndrome
When I talk to business owners about their imposter syndrome and we resolve their story they find confidence, peace, a strong sense of self and their abilities, surety they’ve not felt in years (decades, or ever). Sure some may ‘relapse’ but they can recognise it now and have the skills to walk themselves out of the situation (I relapsed twice).
It can take time learning the skills they’ve avoided for so long. It takes patience building new habits. It takes courage and vulnerability to address the underlying issue rather than sweep it under the carpet.
A business owner who overcomes imposter syndrome is a powerful force, determined, resilient, and capable of achieving more than they ever imagined because their imagination has previously been clouded.