imposter syndrome

The Great Imposter: Is That Really You – or Merely Your Fear?

Truth be told, many successful leaders and entrepreneurs seriously question their abilities. We doubt whether we are as competent as others might think we are.

Quite plainly, we can sometimes feel like phonies and fear that at any time, our “fraud” will be called out – and we will be labeled as impostors for the world to shame.

Experiencing this “impostor syndrome” is not uncommon. Sheryl Sandberg, writing in her infamous book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, describes feeling like an imposter.

“Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself — or even excelled — I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again.”

Many of us are probably sighing with relief at Sandberg’s confession, thinking finally someone admits to feeling the same way that we do.

Overcompensating to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Living with the impostor syndrome is like a dog chasing its tail – doing more, preparing more, all to ensure that no one discovers your secret: that you think you’re a fraud.

The term imposter syndrome was first coined in the 1970s by a pair of psychologists, Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance. At first, it was applied to mainly to high-achieving women. But over the years, it has been recognized as a syndrome that many others experience.

Some of the common signs, among others are:

  • Doubting ourselves
  • Sabotaging our success
  • Claiming our success is due to external factors or luck
  • Overachieving

Research has suggested that entrepreneurs are more likely to display symptoms of the impostor role, since they are using their dreams/fantasy of a business to fuel their ideas into reality. (The Imposter Syndrome: Developmental and Societal Issues; Manfred F.R. Kets de Vres)

“It is because we are all imposters that we endure each other.”— Philosopher Emil Cioran

What Are Supposed Imposters Like on the Inside?

Although Impostor Syndrome isn’t acknowledged in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it does exist. It’s something that people don’t talk about.

“Part of the experience is that they’re afraid they’re going to be found out,” says Imes.

Those of us with impostor syndrome oftentimes were raised in families that placed an extreme value on achievement, according to Imes. “Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving.”

In our quest to be deeply seen and heard, we might fantasize about our parents being rich, being something other than what we actually are. Some of us, however, never learn to ‘tone down’ our grand self-images or our optimal parental images. We want to be treated according to our ideals – not according to our real achievements.

Those of us with the imposter syndrome may relate to any of the following:

  • Extremely sensitive to rejection
  • Afraid of social failure
  • Exhibit perfectionistic attitudes towards ourselves
  • Believe success is attributed to luck, likeability or attractiveness

We can believe we have fooled everyone and are not as competent or intelligent as others think we are.

It is believed 70% of people will have at least one episode of the imposter syndrome in their lives.

Conquer Imposter Syndrome by Recognizing Your Feelings

We can learn to overcome our feelings of being an imposter by:

  • Sharing feelings with mentors who can offer encouragement and support
  • Acknowledging our expertise
  • Recognizing all the things we are good at
  • Always remembering no one can meet all criteria of perfection – “perfect” is a matter of perception

“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.” ~ Buddha

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Laughter in Leadership: Time to Get Serious About It

When’s the last time you had a good laugh at work?

If you can’t remember, then you’re seriously not alone.

We’re in in the midst of a laughter drought, according to MBA candidate Eric Tsytsylin.

Data backs that up:

While babies laugh about 400 times each day,

adults over 35 years of age laugh only about 15 times each day.

At the workplace, there’s a lot less laughter.

Gallup research notes people laugh a great deal less during the week than weekends.

We Need Laughter for a Happy Life

Laughter is indeed serious business for living a happy life. Adding in lightness, fun and humor to our work and life adds connection and a new perspective.

Research from Northwestern University discovered laughing boosts your mood and can promote innovation and beneficial brainstorming, help employees work better and increase overall satisfaction on the job.

So, let’s start laughing at the workplace!

“If you can learn the humor of a people and really control it, you know that you are also in control of nearly everything else.”

-Peter McGraw (author of The Humor Code and a marketing and psychology professor at the University of Colorado Boulder) and Joel Warner (a journalist) citing anthropologist Edward Hall

Laughter: The Best Medicine

Seems as we grow up, we take life a lot too seriously. But why? A good, deep, belly laugh, when your lips nearly crack from smiling and your eyes tear up, is like a heaping spoonful of wonderfully natural medicine.

Loma Linda University Associate Professor Dr. Lee Berk has researched laughing for nearly 30 years. A Time article by Markham Heid highlights what Berk has discovered about laughter.

It:

  • triggers production of feel-good chemicals in our bodies
  • inhibits the release of stress hormones
  • works to lower inflammation
  • improves blood flow

In an HBR article, Leading With Humor, Alison Beard writes that laughter in the workplace:

  • relieves boredom and stress
  • encourages creativity and working together

Here’s something of interest: laughter also increased employee productivity by 10% after watching a comedy clip versus their counterparts who did not.

The Magic of Humor Has Wide-Reaching Benefits

In The New York Times, Senior Editor Corinne Purtill cited a striking example of just how much infusing laughter into a presentation can improve the audience’s attention – and retention.

Behavioral scientist Jennifer Aaker wanted to see how adding humor to an otherwise ho-hum lecture would affect the audience.

It proved to be a memorable presentation.

She asked media and strategy consultant Naomi Bagdonas to give a guest lecture. The audience was unaware that in addition to her consulting credentials and working on her MBA, Bagdonas did evening gigs performing improv at comedy clubs.

While her lecture explained the use of stories in conjunction with data, neurochemistry, and factor analysis – bland, humdrum stuff by most people’s standards – Bagdonas’ comic delivery had students laughing to tears – and remarkably recalling her points more accurately than most other guest speakers.

As a result, Aaker and Bagdonas instruct a course at Stanford, “Humor: Serious Business.” The two teach that it’s not about joke telling – it’s about cultivating joy. And while one must be careful in dispensing humor so as not to be offensive to others, an authentic leader who expresses empathy and emphasizes inclusion can also add humor to inspire trust in the workplace.

In her HBR article, Beard noted a few highlights of infusing humor:

  • Be honest and authentic in your humor
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself – it indicates things are alright
  • Laughter puts people at ease, so go ahead and poke fun about the things everyone is stressed over

And in today’s tumultuous world, a little humor can go a long way.

I always give 100% at Work: 10% Monday, 23% Tuesday, 40% Wednesday, 22% Thursday, and 5% Friday.​

-Anonymous

Let Go. Laugh a Little. And Then Some More 🙂

Writing in Forbes, Jacquelyn Smith offers up why humor can be the key to success at the workplace:

  • It puts people at ease
  • It can reduce stress
  • Helps spur creative thinking
  • Aids in building trust
  • Can boost morale and lessen employee turnover

She notes, however, that not all workplaces encourage humor. International business speaker Michael Kerr writes that it depends on the atmosphere of the office. Less structured environments, where employees can be themselves, tend to express their humor more openly.

Some employees, Kerr explains, purposely tone down their humor, to be taken more seriously. “Yet, this can backfire as people who take themselves overly seriously are often, ironically, taken less seriously by the people around them,” states Kerr.

Humor Has the Power to Add Lightness to Any Workplace

Recently the national media had fun with the “cat” attorney Rod Ponton, who signed into Zoom for a court hearing. Because of a Zoom filter, however, the judge wasn’t looking at Ponton, but instead, a talking white kitten.

Ponton attempted to remove the cat photo. So did his assistant. “I don’t know how to remove it,” he admits in the video. “I’ve got my assistant here and she’s trying to remove it but uh…I’m prepared to go forward with it. I’m here live. I’m not a cat.”

About 20 seconds later, the kitten transformed into Ponton, who admits he – and many others – had a good laugh about it.

A little humor adds some lightness to our lives, when we’re so pandemic weary, longing for our old routines, and uncertain of what the future holds.

And for authentic leaders, incorporating humor into the workplace is like putting the cherry on the chocolate ice cream sundae.

“Sometimes I spend the whole meeting wondering how they got the big meeting table through the door.” – Greeting Card Poet

Hope that got you laughing!

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