5th November 2020

6 Ways To Tackle Impostor Syndrome In Your Tech Team (And Yourself)

Today I’m going to outline 6 ways you can tackle impostor syndrome in your technology team and the tech industry in general.

I’ll also discuss some ways you can deal with impostor syndrome in your own career.

You might be asking what is impostor syndrome? Or what is impostor syndrome in the tech industry?

The first thing to note is that a huge 58% of tech workers feel like impostors.

So you and the people in your team are not the outliers here.

I recently spoke to Sarah Vang Nøhr from Trustpilot about this specific topic for my video series “Diversity By The Dozen” (you can watch the full conversation here).

This series explores diversity in the technology industry and what companies are doing to build a more diverse workforce.

I’ve even created a LinkedIn group to discuss diversity in the technology industry.

I’d love for you to join us 👇

In the meantime, I’ll be detailing ways you can diminish the impact impostor syndrome has on you and your team.

Let’s get started:


Start practicing emotional intelligence in your team.

Impostor syndrome is something which can be very hard to identify in yourself.

It will impact you in such subtle, yet consistent ways that you may not even be aware you have it.

Blind.com conducted a survey to the thousands of tech professionals using the Blind app (total participants: 10,402)

The results were pretty conclusive 👇

Impostor syndrome in technology industry
teamblind.com

This is why emotional intelligence within your team is so important.

You can help identify impostor syndrome behaviours or actions and STOP them in their tracks.

Observatory.tec.mx also produced a great article that outlines the intersection between impostor syndrome and emotional intelligence.

Believing in your team and helping push them in the right direction will fill them with confidence and help counteract the effects of impostor syndrome.

But that’s not all:

Sarah also discussed the important of emotional intelligence in our conversation:

“Focus on awareness – being aware if you can sense someone holding back, being aware if you know someone knows something and they keep on holding back, that’s a really good sign of someone suffering with impostor syndrome. But also just probing, asking the right questions.”

The next point may seem counterintuitive at first.


Start using radical candor NOW.

Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean is a book written by Kim Scott, which teaches you to “create a culture of feedback, build a cohesive team and achieve great results.”

Radical candor book cover
radicalcandor.com

Radical candor is very simply ensuring your team knows you care personally for them before giving difficult feedback.

It’s extremely important to give actionable feedback to your team, and it’s even more important that this feedback is received well and acted upon.

This kind of honesty in a team builds a lot of trust and enables people to believe in themselves.

Or in other words:

Two very important steps to fixing impostor syndrome.

Sarah outlined the importance of radical candor to me:

“The caring part is really important, whoever you’re being completely honest with and pushing, needs to feel like you’re doing it from the right place, and not from a place where you’re trying to hurt them. If you’re being honest but hurtful, you’re just being an asshole. But, if you build up that trust and you build up that, you can really get far with radical candor.”

The next point ties in nicely with radical candor.


Ensure that your team shines.

This should be the objective of every manager no matter what.

BUT:

It just so happens it is great at tackling impostor syndrome too.

This is a visual representation of what impostor syndrome can feel like:

Impostor syndrome venn diagram

Praising team members openly will tackle the thoughts of not belonging or not being good enough.

It’s important to note though:

Team members with impostor syndrome will assume you are overstating this praise, so it’s important to provide facts and evidence to back up your comments.

Sarah has found great success in her engineering team at Trustpilot:

“Make it your mission to make people shine as a manager, that should be your first and foremost mission. It should be what wakes you up in the morning, I would say, because then you put them first and you make sure they can feel it, especially at your core they can feel it.”

Now we can discuss ways to overcome impostor syndrome in yourself.


It’s important to find your superpower.

Finding your superpower in your career means you can focus on work that comes easily to you, is fun and you can do for hours and hours.

This focus will build your confidence and show you were your strengths and weaknesses are.

Some people will refer to this as your “flow state”

Model of flow

Your flow state is the perfect mix of challenge and ability. You can complete tasks for hours on end without getting bored.

You’ll often find that time seems to speed up when you’re in the flow state.

Some easy questions to ask yourself to find your superpower include:

  • What aspects of your job are you feel completely focused and can excel without too much effort?
  • What do people tell you you’re good at? This is often a quick way of identifying your strong points.
  • When are you most confident and fearless? This will lead to you taking risks and expanding your ability, which are great signs of strength.
  • What parts of your job do you just “get” more than others?

For a more in-depth analysis of finding your superpower, read 10 Questions To Help You Find and Boost Your Superpowers by Lifehack.org

And if that’s not enough:

Sarah outlined the importance of finding your superpower in our conversation:

“The first one and the most powerful one I would say is to find your superpower and find your passion. Strip away all of your thoughts about what an engineer should look like or what someone in tech should look like and really focus on the things that matter to you and push that forward. You need that strong vision on where you want to go.”

Following these points to find your superpower will help reduce that creeping doubt that impostor syndrome can bring on.

Most importantly, you need to:


Start sharing the blame.

Impostor syndrome will regularly lead people to blame themselves when something goes wrong at work (this could be something as small as an confusing email, or as big as a late project).

But let’s be honest:

Realistically, this very rarely ever one person’s fault.

Maybe the information wasn’t communicated to you effectively, perhaps you never got all of the information or it could be that you didn’t have the right amount of time to complete the task.

The point is, some things are just out of your control.

Sarah has a great exercise for people blaming themselves which can really help put things in perspective.

“One of the exercises I do when I can tell people are blaming themselves is to make a pie chart and detail how much was your responsibility, how much was somebody else’s. This helps you to share the blame.”

Practicing sharing the blame will stop putting the pressure all on yourself and allow you to see a clearer picture of the whole situation.

Finally, you need to understand the most important point of all.


Understand the circle of control.

This theory will help you to categorize exactly what you can control, what you can influence and what you have no impact over at all.

For some, this can be a pretty eye opening experiment.

All you need to do is draw three circles like a target on a big piece of paper, then write areas of concern on sticky notes and place them where they belong on the circle.

Visualisation of the circle of control

You can read more about the circle of influence here.

It’s great because it categorizes exactly what people can and can’t control, which will relieve doubt and uncertainty.

The idea is that if you can’t control it, then you don’t put any more thought into it.

Sarah outline how she uses it in our conversation:

“There are three levels of things you can control: Things you can control directly, influence over others and everything else outside of this. One of the things I never let bother me is peoples reactions to work I’ve done, if I’ve done everything I can then I won’t let it impact me. As long as we’ve done everything we can, we need to let everything else go.”

Now I’d like to hear from you:

What strategy are you going to implement in your technology team to tackle impostor syndrome?

I’d love to hear which tip you liked with you the most.

Picture of Katie Moorcraft

Katie Moorcroft
Connect with me directly on LinkedIn to talk about diversity and inclusion in your company in more detail.