The Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake

Harvard Business Review has voted 'The Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake' by INSEAD's Professor of Leadership Development, Manfred Kets de Vries, as their third best published article in 2005. In many walks of life, there are high achievers who believe that they are complete fakes. The sense of being a fraud is the flip side of giftedness and causes a great many talented, hardworking, and capable leaders to believe that they don't deserve their success. Kets de Vries explores the subject of neurotic imposture and outlines its classic symptoms: fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism, procrastination, and workaholism and describes how perfectionist overachievers can damage their careers, their colleagues' morale, and the bottom line...

by Manfred Kets de Vries
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

In many walks of life--and business is no exception--there are high achievers who believe that they are complete fakes. To the outside observer, these individuals appear to be remarkably accomplished; often, they are extremely successful leaders with staggering lists of achievements.

These neurotic impostors--as psychologists call them--are not guilty of false humility. The sense of being a fraud is the flip side of giftedness and causes a great many talented, hardworking, and capable leaders to believe that they don't deserve their success. "Bluffing" their way through life (as they see it), they are haunted by the constant 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?"

In his career as a management professor, consultant, leadership coach and psychoanalyst, Manfred Kets de Vries, Raoul de Vitry d'Avaucourt Professor of Leadership Development at INSEAD, has found neurotic impostors at all levels of organizations. In this article, he explores the subject of neurotic imposture and outlines its classic symptoms: fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism, procrastination, and workaholism. He then describes how perfectionist overachievers can damage their careers, their colleagues' morale, and the bottom line by allowing anxiety to trigger self-handicapping behavior and cripple the very organizations they're trying so hard to please.

Finally, Kets de Vries offers advice on how to limit the incidence of neurotic imposture and mitigate its damage through discreet vigilance, appropriate intervention, and constructive support.

<em>Harvard Business Review has voted 'The Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake' as their 3rd best published article in 2005.</em>

Harvard Business Review, September 2005

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