The Other 'Fraud Team': Dealing with Imposter Syndrome in the workplace.
In his PauseFest presentation 'Don't underestimate the power of crazy', Stephen Yates - the Head of Design Transformation at Invision, outlined Imposter Syndrome and how it impacts us as individuals.
Imposter Syndrome is the irrational fear of being discovered as a 'fraud' - that you've cheated all of your accomplishments and aren't as good as people think or say that you are. Yates discussed this syndrome as being made up of five key archetypes:
- The Perfectionist - those who think because their work is not exactly how they like, or when they delegate, the work presented is not up to their standards. These people are often micro-managers, looking for control over every minor detail.
- Superman/Superwoman - those who need to stay long hours to prove how 'good' they are, shouldering more responsibility than is necessary and taking on projects 'for the team', rather than themselves.
- The Genius - people who judge success based on their ability, rather than their effort. They need to get things right the first time - they know that they are smart enough to do so, but not getting it right immediately means they have failed.
- The Individualist - those who feel ashamed when asking for help, as it may reveal them as an imposter. Even when clearly struggling, the individualist will attempt to work through it. Any aid or help is proof that they aren't qualified for the job.
- The Expert - those who feel that they never know enough, and even though they are knowledgeable, feel as if they are still a beginner. If they don't have an answer to a question or don't have experience with a tool, and that gets found out, they feel like frauds.
Which of these Imposter Syndrome types do you identify with? Some people identify with more than one. Do you know of any colleagues or team members (or clients!) who identify with these types? This second question may be more valuable to you than the first.
Yates in his presentation said: 'Every company is dysfunctional - it's just how functional they are with this dysfunction.' Each of these archetypes contribute to this dysfunction, making it important for team leaders and managers to understand which members of their teams are impacted by each type.
Through understanding each team members archetype(s) you can start to function through the dysfunction. Could you help the Individualist designer by gently providing feedback to normalise asking for help? Can you help Supermen and Superwomen by emphasising the importance of work/life balance? You'd rather them happy and healthy than tackling tasks until 10pm.
This understanding can also help in a client/partner scenario. Knowing your client's or partner's fears or archetypes can help you write business cases, or present initiatives in a way that alleviates their fears and is more persuasive.
An Opportunity For Understanding
As Imposter Syndrome is deeply personal, it can be difficult to bring up and diagnose these archetypes. Asking what type of fraud your team mate is won't yield answers – people will not admit to being frauds, especially not to the people who work with them!
Instead, inform them of the types (via this article!) and encourage them to understand that they aren't alone in their thinking - that everyone can utilise this knowledge together.
Imposter Syndrome shouldn't be limited to individual diagnoses. Understanding how each member of your team feels will ultimately help to build stronger teams and better understanding in the workplace.
By the way, this writer falls under the types of The Genius, The Individualist and The Expert. This may be why it took him so long to submit this article to the editors!