Do you have impostors in your company? However hard it may be to tell, it’s worth your while to keep an eye out. Impostors holding back or burning out after overcompensating can directly affect your business.
Burn out is not the only negative effect to look out for. There is a number of harmful effects impostor syndrome can have on your software team:
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts” Bertrand Russel
Impostors will do their best to hide their true emotions from you as a colleague or team leader (after all, they don’t want to be found out), but there are some outward signs that you can look for. None of these necessarily indicate impostor syndrome, but when you notice enough of them, you might want to open up conversation:
Again, all these behaviours might have a myriad of valid or practical reasons. But observe enough of them in smart and experienced developers and it might be time for a chat.
Life is awesome when this thing called ‘work’ becomes another way of expressing the passions in your life. Nick Floyd
Impostor syndrome is something we all have to deal with on our own to certain extent, but there are certainly ways in which you can help.
Give each other feedback
Giving good feedback is a skill all on its own. Take care to comment on each other’s behaviour and help each other improve. When someone gives you feedback, listen to and thank them.
Praise good behaviour
In daily stand-up meetings be lavish with praise to others. Remember, praise is a non-depletable resource — there’s always more of it. Tell each other what they did well, and how they helped you achieve something. Be sure to praise observable behaviour, and not simply tell people they are “good developers” or “very smart”. Make it genuine.
Set an example
Set an example of how to behave when you write buggy code, mess up a deployment or don’t know the answer to a question. Show your team that it’s okay to ask for help, or make a mistake. Show them you are not your code: writing bad once sometimes does not make you a bad person. Show them it’s not the end of the world, and does not make you incompetent.
Set explicit expectations
If you are a manager, make sure your set clear boundaries and expectations for each individual in your team. Tell them the behaviour that will get them rewarded and respected, and explain how mistakes are permissible and how they are dealt with.
Make sure to celebrate success in the team, both as a team and individually. It is easy to get stuck in a neverending rhythm of the next deadline, constantly sprinting – but stopping every once in a while and acknowledging a good release or a particularly nice feature you delivered can go a long way in really feeling the expected competency levels.
Really work on holding productive retrospectives, and make sure an experienced coach takes charge of these meetings. He will make sure everybody has their say on both positive and negative observations, giving the entire team ample opportunity to celebrate success and graciously admit to mistakes without losing face.
Employ professional coaching for you team members. This means an experienced, preferably external, coach – not a manager taking 10 minutes to ask how you’re doing. Coaching can quite effective, but only if you are not discussing your personal issues with someone in charge of your salary or contract.
Most of all, it is important to give each other honest feedback and make sure there is always a clear example of how to make mistakes. Make it obvious what behaviour is considered successful and what isn’t, and your team members should be capable – maybe with some help – to learn and internalise these competency standards and truly flourish.
Remember you can lead the way in beatin impostor syndrome in your team by taking action yourself. You can also read more about how impostor syndrome works and there’s also some interesting reference material available.