The concept of Impostor Syndrome has been discussed in a number of different contexts for some time now. It is also something my colleagues and I talk about from time. Impostor syndrome is a phenomenon which can impact on the way many people, in both co-located and virtual project teams, are able to function and bring the best skills to the table.
Firstly, just what is Impostor Syndrome? Wikipedia defines it as “An inability to internalise ones successes“, such that, regardless of how successful an individual may be in accomplishing things in their life, they still feel somewhat inadequate. As such, these individuals are often reluctant to publicize their successes and skills, not to their colleagues, their employer or to society as a whole. Generally they believe that they are not as accomplished as their qualifications or experience may suggest. Their lack of self confidence means they are often overlooked when a business is seeking someone with their skills simply because others are not aware of their achievements. Consequently, the business is unable to learn from their experience and, they themselves are unlikely to receive the recognition they may deserve.
Individuals with this personality trait, when they are working as part of a team or an organisation, since they are not comfortable advertising their abilities, are then the hidden, undiscovered asset of the project team. They will often quietly sit in the corner in a meeting, knowing the answers to many of the project issues, but not confident enough in their own knowledge to speak out in the meeting. Instead, they will, at times, whisper their experiences to colleagues or to themselves, in the hopes that these insights may make it into the overall project consciousness and become part of the execution methodology.
These hidden assets are often times easily intimidated and drowned out by braggarts and empty vessels in project teams, these are the personnel who are over confident and have an over inflated sense of their own accomplishments, and who are at the diametric opposite of those with impostor syndrome. These overconfident personnel are, in many cases, the real impostors, impostors who think they know the answers to all of the problems and who are quite happy to tell the whole world their beliefs, when in reality their knowledge and experience may well be a facade with no substance behind it.
Spotting Those With Impostor Syndrome
So, how to identify them and get the best from these people in your project team…
In my experience, those people with impostor syndrome will work hard to stay unseen, to stay in the shadows and not become the center of attention. However, they are usually identified through their consistent effort and achievement. As such, looking in your projects groups for the quiet achievers would be the place to start looking.
Examine the kind of tasks they take on and the quality of the work they have done for you, look at their backgrounds, both inside and outside of the organisation, where they have worked and lived and often what they spend their spare time doing. They may be the person who reads a different kind of book on the daily commute to work, they could easily be the person who sits across from you in the bus to the office every day, yet you may not realise the value they will bring to your team, your project or your company.
One thing of which you can be pretty sure however, they will rarely advertise their own abilities, since they think they know no more than their colleagues on any given subject and don’t want to be exposed to the light of day, fearing the possible failure this could expose them to. However, they are usually more capable or more knowledgeable on their specialist subject than many others in your group. You just need to find them, and then find a way to use their skills that will give them the confidence to step out into the daylight and become all they are capable of.
Leaving these undiscovered and very modest specialists hidden, masked by the noise of the empty vessels who often fight for the limelight of a project, is neglecting your responsibility as a manager, responsibilities to the organisation, the individuals, your client and yourself, so get out there and look for your hidden treasures.
Share your experiences
Do you have experiences or views on impostor syndrome, perhaps its you or perhaps a colleague, if so, I would love to hear from you.
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