BossWoman ENews |
Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.
In this issue, you'll find:
- The Imposter Phenomenon
- BossWoman coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. The Imposter Phenomenon
By anybody’s standards Julia Cameron is a prolific writer. She
has authored over 21 books including her trilogy on creativity,
The Artist’s Way published in 1992 followed by Walking on Water
and Finding Water. She is also the creator of nine plays
including 4 musicals in which she wrote the songs, four poetry
collections, and a screenplay for a major movie. However, she
sometimes wakes in the middle of the night thinking, “I can’t
write. I’ve never been able to write. I’ve fooled the world
and they’re finding out at dawn.”
Do you ever feel like you are faking your way through your
creative or professional life fearful of being discovered as
the imposter you are? Well, you are in good company according
to Dr. Tracey T. Manning, associate professor, Center on Aging,
and senior scholar, Burns Academy of Leadership, at the
University of Maryland College Park. “This pattern, most
frequent among high-achieving women, is called the ‘imposter
phenomenon,’ and is an organized pattern of beliefs in one’s
own phoniness with significant personal and professional
consequences. The Imposter Phenomenon, first described and
named in 1978 by social psychologists, Pauline Clance and
Suzanne Imes, surfaces most often when previously competent
people face a new challenge.”
Susan Robison: Is this imposter phenomenon found only in women?
Tracey Manning: No. Though most research has explored the
imposter phenomenon in women, e.g. high-achieving women or
female students in traditionally male fields, it appears that
some men also suffer from the syndrome. Here is the good news
for both genders: Only professionals and leaders in
challenging situations worry about the imposter phenomenon.
Line workers in factories do not share that concern. So if this
topic resonates with your readers, they should know that it is
common for high-achieving women and men have doubts about their
S.R.: What causes high-powered women with a track record of
accomplishments to doubt their ability?
T.M: There are at least two reasons women are more likely to
struggle with imposter phenomenon than men are. First, in most
societies, leadership is seen as more “natural” for men than
for women. While this attitude may be changing, our ideas about
leaders and leadership originate from much earlier in life, so
we develop implicit leadership theories that influence our
beliefs about our own leadership. A second reason is that women
are more likely than men to attribute the results of our
behavior to causes that limit our confidence and maximize our
S.R.: How do implicit leadership theories affect women?
T.M.: Think of an implicit leadership theory as a set of
assumptions about where leadership originates and how leaders
look, behave and develop. Implicit leadership theories are most
like stereotypes about leadership, which we apply to ourselves
as well as to others.
When women hold leadership positions, others often conclude
that they were promoted or chosen to fill a quota, for
political correctness, or as tokens. Unfortunately this leads
to women being regarded as, and perhaps feeling, less
competent than male peers. Being treated like a token has
implications for women’s self-concepts; in several key
studies of top executives, women who are equally talented as
men have less confidence in their abilities.
S.R.: So you mean that some of the implicit ideas we have
about leadership and achievement lead to our seeing our
success as incongruous with our femaleness and lead to our
worry that we are faking our achievements and will be
discovered any minute?
T.M.: Yes. For example, some women don’t see themselves as
leaders no matter how many leadership roles they take;
they’d probably tell you they were “just doing what was
needed.” That’s because they’ve defined leadership in a way
that disqualifies them.
S.R.: If a woman holds a leadership position and is
accomplishing its tasks, why does it matter if she doesn’t
see herself as a leader?
T.M.: Because without leadership self-confidence (called
leadership self-efficacy) she is much more stressed in the
role, less likely to take initiative or risks, and less
likely to buffer her team or organization from stress.
Other Causes of the Imposter Phenomenon
S.R.: You mentioned that attribution patterns contribute to
feeling like a fake? What are attribution patterns?
T. M.: Attributions are your explanations for why some
event happened. Certain patterns of viewing the relationship
between cause and effect are major contributors to the
imposter phenomenon. For instance, ask a woman how she
credits her most recent success or disappointment. If he
answers that her success was mostly due to hard work and/or
low challenge, and her disappointing result was due to her
own inadequacy, that’s likely to induce imposter feelings.
S.R: How so?
T.M.: Because those choices represent whether she sees
herself as causing the result and whether the cause is
something temporary or something stable. The most
confidence-building attribution pattern is to make stable,
internal attributions for successful results (e.g. “I saw
what needed to be done and had the guts to do it” or “I
brought the right people together and worked with them to
reach this goal”) and temporary, external attributions for
disappointing outcomes (e.g. “I really hadn’t taken time
to prepare adequately” or “I underestimated what was
involved in accomplishing this”).
S.R.: So women who take appropriate credit for their
success are less likely to worry about being imposters?
T.M.: That’s right. And women who see their so-called
failures as temporary and due to external causes are
also in good shape. Reverse these helpful patterns and
you blame yourself for not accomplishing something when
the odds were stacked against you. You might, for
example, attribute receiving your MBA to good luck or to
an easy program. Seeing your accomplishments as flukes
and your disappointing results as personal failures
contributes to feeling worried that soon you will be
found out for the fake you have been all along.
S.R.: So what about times where you really did blow
it? It seems like you’re suggesting we rationalize
T.M.: Not really. If we’re going to take blame for
failures and not credit for successes, we’ve stacked
the deck against ourselves. Because of this excessive
humility (due to our socialization, probably), we
miss the opportunity to gain the confidence in our
abilities that comes from more accurately attributing
S.R.: What about attributing your success to hard work?
That’s something many of us can relate to. Like staying
up to the wee hours of the morning working on a proposal?
T.M.: Although hard work is important in leadership and
professional professions, there is a trap in believing
that effort is the most important contributor to success.
There’s an inverse relationship between ability and
effort, so that working very hard may be an indicator
that your do not have the ability you need for that job.
Strange as it may seem, studies on promotability show
that people are much more likely to be promoted if their
achievements seem to have come from ability than from
hard work. The key here is to work from strength,
finding a job that matches your abilities and then
applying yourself by working smart.
Effects of the Imposter Phenomenon
S.R.: So far I get that believing you’re an imposter
increases your stress, reduces your initiative, and
hurts your chances of promotion. Anything else?
T.M.: Sadly, yes. Women who believe they are imposters
are often embarrassed about their own (perceived)
incompetence and anxiously avoid situations in which
they might be negatively evaluated by others. Because
they lack confidence in their abilities, they hesitate
to accept leadership challenges for which they’re
obviously qualified and are more reluctant to take on
innovative or challenging projects. They are also less
likely to benefit from leadership training. And finally,
they work harder than needed. And, of course,
organizations lose when people aren’t using their
S.R.: Can you give my readers any tips for fighting or
minimizing the imposter phenomenon?
T.M.: Sure, here are some.
- Challenge your self-defeating thinking patterns.
People can change their attribution patterns, as well
as their attention to and belief in others’ positive
Accept that your accomplishments must in some way
reflect your abilities and give hope that you’ll be
successful in new areas of endeavors. How likely is
it that every accomplishment has been luck or a
fluke? It’s far more likely that you have minimized
your contribution to each success.
- Glean behavioral feedback from compliments and other
positive feedback on your work. Sometimes these are so
general and global that they aren’t very credible. When
you receive such feedback, thank the person and then
ask for more specific feedback on what you did that
- Challenge any non-constructive beliefs that are part
of your implicit leadership theory, especially
associations of leadership with masculinity. Expand
your definition of leadership and look for leadership
potential in non-typical places.
- Identify and strengthen your strengths - and
those of others! Focus on those tasks which match your
strengths, while identifying and delegating where
possible to those with complementary strengths.
- Research from the Gallup organization has identified
significant increases in productivity and satisfaction
when individuals identify and match their work to
- Even more impressive, if you work at strengthening
your strengths you will find effort-reward ratios far
greater than those you get from trying to strengthen
yourself in your weakness areas.
- As you change your attribution patterns and
recognize your strengths, also increase your
- Those higher in leadership self-efficacy are more
motivated to exercise leadership, more likely to be
perceived as leaders or as change agents, and set more
challenging goals for themselves and their groups.
- High leadership self-efficacy helps leaders weather
the storms of leadership, including those which
invoke stereotypes/negative evaluation of women
leaders, and helps to buffer your group from outside
stresses while increasing its performance.
Dr. Manning conducts leadership workshops and consults
on a wide range of leadership issues including
developing transformational leadership in
nonprofit organizations, leadership development for
women in non-traditional fields, training leadership
trainers, and volunteer and non-positional leadership
development. She and I will both be presenting
workshops on June 1 to faculty women in science and
engineering at a national conference sponsored by
UMBC and the National Science Foundation.
Examine and challenge your imposter feelings. You
deserve your success.
Clance, P. R. (1985). The imposter phenomenon:
Overcoming the fear that haunts your success.
Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishing.
Langford, J. & Clance, P. R. (1993). The imposter
phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics,
personality and family patterns and their
implications for treatment. Psychotherapy: Theory,
Research, Practice, Training, 30, 495-501.
Manning, T. (2002). Gender, managerial level,
transformational leadership and work satisfaction.
Women in Management Review, 17, 207-216.
2. BossWoman coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who
want improvement in:
- work-life balance,
- career transitions,
- building your business or practice,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan
a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.
She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations
on the topics of:
- leadership strategies for women,
- work-life balance,
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she
knows that workshops don’t work.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at
Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
I am currently accepting speaking invitations for
work/life balance workshops for the winter of 2008.
Contact me if your group needs a speaker on
any of the topics listed above.
Title: “No Snooze Buttons Allowed: Active Learning
Strategies for the Classroom, Lab, and Clinic”
Date: May 18, 2007; 8:30am-12
Place: Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing;
Title: “MAP Your Career” by Dr. Susan Robison and
“Bringing Out the Best in Others: Leadership Skills
for Women in Science” by Dr. Tracey Manning
Date: June 1, 2007; 8:30am - 5
Place: Women in Science Leadership Conference;
University of Maryland Baltimore County
Title: “Living Well While Doing Good”
Date: June 26, 2007; 1-5
Place: PANPHA state conference; Hershey, PA
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