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Imposter syndrome is bad for workers and business — 3 ways to stop it

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  • Julia Wuench is the founder of The Authenticity Guide, a positive-psychology-based career and executive coaching firm that empowers individuals to harness their authenticity to improve life and work. 
  • She says that when companies hire high achievers, imposter syndrome can run rampant — people constantly feel like frauds.
  • Imposter syndrome can have a real impact on business, and leaders need to proactively try and fend it off.
  • Leaders should be vulnerable, but with a moral takeaway. They should also let employees realize they often know the solutions to their problems, and create a culture where questions are encouraged and valued.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In my first job out of college, I was hired as a financial analyst for a large healthcare system. The job was very accounting heavy, but the hiring managers didn’t seem to care that I had absolutely no accounting experience. (I studied economics, and I had dropped out of accounting on the first day of class.) My inexperience quickly showed. During one of my first days on the job, a senior analyst asked me to “look into the journal entries,” to which my response was actual laughter: “Like a ‘Dear Diary’ about a medical supply purchase?!” I joked out loud. To my horror, nobody else laughed. I had succeeded in outing myself as completely clueless. Needless to say, it was a steep learning curve.

But even when I caught up, I constantly felt like a fraud. High achievers know this phenomenon all too well: imposter syndrome. And now that I’m a career and executive coach, it’s something I encounter in my clients constantly — no matter who they are.

When companies hire mostly high-achieving people, imposter syndrome can run rampant on corporate teams — and even throughout whole companies. And, it’s expensive for organizations when these issues go unaddressed: Many of the symptoms of imposter syndrome result in an inefficient use of the company’s time and resources, which lead to real costs to organizations.

People with imposter syndrome can suffer from procrastination (“I’m going to put this task off because I’m so overwhelmed by it”); over-preparation (“I’m going to prepare for this presentation every waking minute because I’m so anxious about it going poorly”); fear of asking questions when an answer is unclear (“I’m terrified I’m the only one who doesn’t know the answer, so I’m not going to ask to avoid looking like a fool”); and self-sabotage (“I’m going to mess this up anyway so I might as well just give the task to Henry”). 

Because of the serious business implications of allowing this attitude to flourish, the onus is on leaders of high-performing teams to turn around cultures that normalize these fear-based symptoms. In order for employees to learn, grow, and progress, they must not feel shame around expressing uncertainty and seeking help. As a leader, here are three main ways to fix the problem:

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