Oscar Winners

I Want It – It’s Mine, or Is It? Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace.

So often winning the coveted, shiny object seems to slip through our fingers and end up the prize of somebody else. What if, we could just make it ours, without truly earning it?

Frances McDormand, the winner of best actress Oscar Sunday night, and the most discussed award winner this year found her gold, shiny object, stolen from her at an Oscar party by a serial award thief, Terry Bryant, who is now under arrest. Bryant, immediately after swiping the award, posted himself on Instagram glowing with pride and being congratulated for winning the Oscar himself.

This imposter syndrome plays out in the workplace as well and I have seen it from two different, yet no less fascinating angles.

The Real Deal?

 Talk about imposters, let me tell you about a recent executive search assignment we successfully completed for a cool, disruptor agency in the Advertising and Marketing industry in Los Angeles. In the early search stages the agency leadership called us to say that they had unexpectedly, but most fortuitously, stumbled upon their dream rockstar for the position and could we please call off the retained search.

Within the next few weeks, what unfolded, was a discovery, surprising even a CSI agent. The senior candidate had actually constructed a dream resume, layered with fictional qualification after fictional achievement, purely to woo the entrepreneurial leader, into hiring them. They seemed to have developed an avatar of their target and planned a resume that he couldn’t turn down. The only problem was nothing at all was true, not the certifications, not the professional sports scholarships, not the top Silicon Valley SVP roles, nor even the MIT alum status. This was real imposter syndrome at its finest!

When You Actually are It

 The other version of the imposter syndrome, we would see daily, if we were able to peek into the minds of many aspiring and high achieving people in organizations. The often discussed “imposter syndrome”

is the fear of being exposed, that you don’t deserve your success, aren’t as good as others – and could be “found out” at any moment. In fact, unlike Mr Wrong with our agency client, up above, these people did in fact legitimately achieve their positions and are worthy of holding them.

Women were thought to fall prey more frequently to this phenomenon, however recently it’s been understood that men are just as likely to suffer the affliction, they simply feel less comfortable admitting it. In fact, Shana Liebowitz writes in Business Insider about how men are suffering this psychological phenomenon that can undermine their success, but they’re too ashamed to talk about it.

This rings true too for Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy who found that when she did a TedTalk on the imposter syndrome, she was swamped with emails of people (50% men and 50% women) comforted by her talk and claiming this syndrome as their own.  Cuddy goes on in her talk, to explain the psychological process for men feeling the need to pretend.

If this sounds familiar to anyone, we are not alone. In fact, it really doesn’t matter how high you have climbed to experience imposter syndrome and it affects even the most powerful people. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO said: “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am”.

In my view, we get to where we are for a myriad of reasons and sometimes in creative, fluky and unusual ways, not only via conventional paths. Often being in the right place (geographically or spiritually) at the right time, plays into it just as much. Whatever the path we took to get where we are, what is important is holding ourselves accountable in the present, growing while we are there and bringing others up with us.

I dedicate this blog to my beloved late grandmother Florrie Cohen, who was always the real deal, on her Birthday March 6th MHDSRIP.