Impostor Syndrome: anyone on your board suffering with this?

Impostor Syndrome – the ever present fear of being found out as a “fraud” – is, according to recent research, more prevalent than we thought.

But if you or anyone on your board is suffering from this how would you or they know? Why does it matter and what can be done about it? Here is my take, based on my experience with directors:

The problem with some sufferers on boards is that they hide behind a veneer of super confidence. The glass is not just always half full, it’s ever overflowing.

Part of this confidence is often grounded in their formative  years in which they were the apple of their parents’ eyes – particularly their mothers’. A mother – or father – who gives a child unconditional love throughout their formative years gives them a gift worth more than gold.

But where this can go wrong is where this love is not tempered by boundaries and especially help with developing empathy towards others.

Children of doting parents often speed to the top of organisations because they don’t “do” the self-doubt that hinders others.

Yet something happens to them along the way which can be deeply unsettling: to their shock and horror they realise that their peers, bosses and underlings don’t see them as “God’s gift”. Suddenly their confidence is dented more grievously than many an alpha male (in particular) would be willing to acknowledge out loud.

How they process this shock determines the extent to which they suffer from impostor syndrome.

Many “plateau” and underachieve in their careers,  fearful that any further stretch will mean they will be found out.

If you suffer from this syndrome you can google remedial actions. It is more tricky if you suspect that one of your colleagues on your board is a sufferer and doesn’t appear to be self-aware.

The problem is that they often behave in a manner which does not attract empathy. They drive colleagues away using behaviour which smacks of arrogance and hubris.

Yet they are often “dying a thousand deaths inside”. One way around this – and it really matters because you need your leaders to be mentally healthy – is to create an environment where, in private, board members can express their vulnerability to each other honestly.

If you feel that on your board this simply would never happen, think again.

Who would have thought that Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley would become friends? Who would have thought that Nelson Mandela and F.W. deKlerk could do a deal on apartheid?

If they could do the unthinkable, your board can. Brené Browne in her book Daring Greatly advances empirical evidence supporting the link between showing vulnerability and personal and organisational success and fulfilment.

Every board member carries some emotional baggage. That is the nature of human existence. For boards to ignore this reality is to miss a trick in their Target Operating Model (TOM).

A TOM is defined as the processes an organisation employs to deploy its strategic resources to meet a market need.

There are few more powerful “strategic resources” than the relationship between members of your board. After all, nothing gets done without them.

It follows therefore that it is in your personal interests and in the interests of your organisation to maximise the effectiveness, conduct and behaviour of your board members.

One way to achieve this is to work actively to improve your relationships with each other.

And if one of your number suffers from impostor syndrome it is empathy they need, not attack. It’s “arm around” not digs in the solar plexus they need, no matter how much they push those approaches away by their faux cocky behaviour.

One motivation for you to try this is that if you  don’t suffer from impostor syndrome you are most likely to be suffering from some other emotional challenge which no human being can avoid.

Aren’t there times when you could do with some empathy, support and encouragement? Unless of course, for you, there are none. In which case this won’t make any sense to you at all.

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