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September 2, 2005

The Neurotic Imposter — 'The Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake'


Manfred Kets de Vries wrote an interesting article on people who believe they are fakes and liable to be exposed at any moment; it appeared in the August 24 Financial Times.

He's a professor at Insead and director of that school's Global Leadership Center.

Here's the article.

    The Dangerous Insecurities Behind Our Masks

    In many walks of life there are high achievers who believe they are complete fakes.

    To the outside observer, these individuals appear to be remarkably accomplished; often they are extremely successful leaders.

    However, they consider themselves frauds.

    This “neurotic imposture”, as psychologists call it, is not a false humility.

    It is the flip side of giftedness and causes many talented, hardworking and capable leaders – men and women who have achieved great things – to believe that they do not deserve their success.

    "Bluffing" their way through life, these people are haunted by the fear of exposure.

    With every success, they think: "I was lucky this time, fooling everyone, but will my luck hold? When will people discover that I’m not up to the job?"

    Neurotic impostors can be found at all levels.

    I encounter this type of dysfunctional perception and behaviour all the time – particularly when working with executives in consultancies and investment banks.

    Managers should be on the lookout for it in themselves, their staff and their potential successors.

    Failing to recognise and deal with neurotic imposture has serious consequences both for individual sufferers and for organisations relying on them.

    The term "impostor phenomenon" was coined in 1978 by Pauline Clance, a Georgia State University psychology professor, and Suzanne Imes, a psychologist, in a study of high-achieving women.

    They discovered that many of their female clients seemed unable to internalise and accept their achievements.

    Instead, in spite of consistent objective data to the contrary, they attributed their successes to serendipity, luck, contacts, timing, perseverance, charm, or even the ability to appear more capable than they felt themselves to be.

    Most subsequent studies suggest that men exhibit neurotic imposture too.

    How does neurotic imposture get out of hand?

    The trigger is often perfectionism.

    In its mild form, of course, perfectionism provides the energy that leads to great accomplishments.

    "Benign" perfectionists, who do not suffer feelings of inadequacy, derive pleasure from their achievements and do not obsess over failures.

    Neurotic impostors, however, are seldom benign in their perfectionism.

    They are "absolute" perfectionists, who set excessively high, unrealistic goals and then experience self-defeating thoughts and behaviour when they cannot reach those goals.

    They are driven by the belief that they are not good enough, but that they could do better if only they worked harder.

    For this reason, perfectionism often turns neurotic impostors into workaholics.

    Fearing discovery of their "fraudulence", they burden themselves with too much work to compensate for their lack of self-esteem and identity. Work-life balance is a meaningless concept to them.

    In extreme cases, neurotic impostors bring about the very failure that they fear.

    This self-destructive behaviour can take many forms, including procrastination, abrasiveness and the inability to delegate.

    One senior executive with whom I worked, a medical researcher with a brilliant career, exemplifies this propensity.

    Like most neurotic impostors, he dramatised all setbacks and cast himself as the helpless victim.

    The executive lived with the misconception that he was the only one prone to failure and self-doubt, and this made him feel even more insecure and isolated.

    He also harmed his career by reaching exaggerated conclusions based on limited evidence.

    When the executive was promoted to a research director position, he found it much harder to ask for advice.

    As a result, he made a number of poor management decisions that contributed to his organisation’s ineffectiveness.

    Neurotic impostors can, and do, damage the organisations they try so hard to please.

    Their work ethic can be contagious, but because they are so eager to succeed, they often become impatient and abrasive.

    They drive their employees too hard and create a gulag-like atmosphere, which inevitably translates into high employee turnover, absenteeism and other complications that can affect the bottom line.

    Moreover, neurotic impostors can intimidate others with their intensity.

    And because they do not have what it takes to be effective leadership coaches, they are not good at leadership development or succession planning.

    More dangerous, however, is the neurotic impostor’s effect on the quality of decision-making.

    Executives who feel like impostors are afraid to trust their own judgment.

    Their fearful, over-cautious leadership can easily spread across the company and bring dire consequences.

    For example, a neurotic impostor chief executive is likely to suppress his colleagues' entrepreneurial capabilities.

    If he does not trust his own instincts, why should he trust anyone else’s?

    Neurotic imposture is not an inevitable part of the human condition, and it is avoidable.

    Early prevention, for instance, can completely ward it off.

    Parental awareness of the downside of setting excessively high standards for children goes a long way toward preventing later misery.

    But there is hope for late-diagnosed impostors as well.

    Experience has shown that psychotherapeutic interventions can be very effective in changing distorted self-perceptions.

    Yet the best way to manage feelings of imposture can be to evaluate yourself.

    And though a leadership coach or psychotherapist can help you on this journey of self-discovery and change, a mentor or good friend can also put things in perspective.

    If you are unable to take the initiative to deal with your feelings of imposture, however, your boss needs to intervene.

    Such was the case with the chief executive of a large telecommunications company who came to talk to me on the recommendation of his chairman.

    A feedback exercise showed that he was inclined toward micromanagement and perfectionism and that he possessed poor listening skills.

    Some of the written comments of his colleagues also noted that his impatience put intense pressure on directors and that morale at the office was quite low.

    As we discussed the problem, he realised the extent to which he had internalised the expectations of his extremely demanding parents, and started to change.

    He began to experiment with new behaviour in the office and received a positive reception, which increased his sense of self-efficacy.

    When I met him a year later, he mentioned how morale at the office had dramatically improved, how the company had become more profitable and how his ability to let go of his controlling tendencies had contributed to these successes.

    Good bosses remain alert for symptoms of neurotic imposture in their employees: fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism, procrastination and workaholism.

    In performance reviews, bosses should signal (uncritically) any danger signs to their staff.

    They should also explain how anxiety about performance can take on a self-destructive quality, and they should emphasise the value of work-life balance, pointing out that extreme strength can easily become a weakness.

    Above all, a boss needs to make sure that a subordinate suffering from neurotic imposture understands that criticism goes with responsibility.

    This means teaching by word and example, that criticism is an opportunity for new learning and not a total, unrecoverable catastrophe.

    They must point out that everyone in a responsible job feels smaller than the job at times.

    At these moments, especially in a new position, the worst thing a neurotic imposter can do is compare their abilities with those of seasoned executives.

    They need to be convinced that everyone needs time to adjust and learn the ropes.

    At the same time, leaders must strengthen the perceived link between positive achievements and efforts.

    They can do this not only by offering praise when it is due, but also by acknowledging that making mistakes (though not repeating them) is part of a successful corporate culture.

    The wise organisation does not punish "smart" mistakes; indeed, to "fail forward" should be part of a company’s cultural values.

    Mistakes can offer great opportunities for learning and personal growth, and leaders need to help neurotic impostors understand that a fear of failure is normal and need not be debilitating.



    Business people who believe they are frauds exist in every organisation and at every level of responsibility. Their attitude can be harmful to a company.

    ■ Neurotic impostors set themselves unachievable goals and abandon any attempt to have a work-life balance.

    ■ The ensuing self-destructive behaviour can include procrastination, abrasiveness and the inability to delegate.

    ■ Poor listening skills and a tendency to micromanage are symptoms too: these can dent staff morale.

    ■ Bosses should explain that anxiety over performance can be self-destructive.

    ■ Neurotic impostors need to learn that criticism comes with responsibility.

    ■ New starters should not compare their work unfavourably with long-serving senior executives. Such a comparison is unrealistic and unfair.

    ■ All workers need to understand that some mistakes are inevitable.


Note: The movie pictured up top is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick and it is a sensational film, even though you've never heard of it.

Better than any of the garbola currently playing in theaters.

September 2, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bumps B Gone™ Travel Hangers


For a moment I thought I was listening to "The Who Sell Out" — the part about "should've used Medac" for zits.

But Bumps B Gone™ — any dissenters to my making this product name a finalist for dopiest of the year? I didn't think so — are actually an innovative product and potentially quite useful if you're the sort who doesn't like the lumps in the shoulders of your clothes that accompany the use of wire and plastic hangers.

These hangers are made of soft, padded foam and plastic and are completely bendable so shirts drip–dry without the bumpy bulges and spaghetti–strapped garments stay where you put them.

Each hanger folds down to 8.75" x 3.25".


You get a set of four (one each yellow, pink, blue and gray) for $12.85 here.

September 2, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Funniest thing I've seen online all week


Cracks me up every

time I look

at it.

September 2, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Squeeze-Me Lemon Squeezer — 'Cause there ain't nothing like the real thing, baby'


Never again those plastic lemons with reconstituted lemon juice.

"Squeeze lemon without squirting juice & pips in all directions."

From the website:

    Just place half a lemon into the base, replace the nozzle and squeeze.

    The pip guard in the nozzle retains any unwanted pips and bits!

    Easy squeezy!


£12 ($21;€18) here.

[via AW]

September 2, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Ossuary in Sedlec — 'Where human bones become art'


A reader sent me a link to this amazing website last night.


It focuses on an amazing place: The Sedlec Ossuary (a.k.a. Kostnice) outside the town of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic.

From the website:

    In 1996 I visited the place and fell madly in love with it.


    I searched the Net for pictures and information on the Ossuary in Sedlec without finding any really good pictures or info.

    Because of that I decided to make my own Sedlec Ossuary Page.


    In fact, when I launched this page there was only one other page about the Ossuary on the www.

    That page has been taken off–line by now, but several others have appeared.


    Recently I've had some spare time and because of that I've been able to catch up with some of the images that have been sent to me by some cool visitors to this page.

[via ROB]

September 2, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

EZ Foldr™ — Disappearing Laundry Basket


Now you see it.



you don't.

Folded, it's thin enough to fit between your washer and dryer.

Open, it's light (nylon mesh and flexible frame) and measures 19" x 19" x 14".

Carrying handles on the side.

$7.95 here.

Hide in plain sight.

September 2, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gmail for (almost) everybody


Walt Mossberg, in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, noted that Gmail, while still in beta, is almost open to anyone now that GoogleTalk IM is out.


Anyone with a Gmail account can use GoogleTalk to make free computer–to–computer calls to anyone with a Gmail account — anywhere in the world.

But there's still one small catch before Google opens Gmail to hoi polloi.

If you haven't been invited to join Gmail by an existing user, you can still get an account — if you have a cellphone with text–messaging.

Go here and they'll set you up.

Mossberg's already made sure the method works.

He wrote that once you sign up via your cellphone as instructed online you'll be able to use Gmail with your computer, be it a PC or Mac.

No need to take your cellphone out again.

Google does it this way to thwart spammers.

September 2, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Double–walled bowl


First time I've seen this outside of cups and glasses for drinking.

The glass bowl holds approximately 2.5 cups and lets you take the steaming hot contents out of the microwave while remaining cool to your touch.

Air between the two layers of glass insulates the outside from temperature extremes within.

Nicely done and quite stylish as well.

$19.50 here.

September 2, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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