Imposter Syndrome strikes 1 in 5 SME owners… with nearly half convinced someone else could run their business better

workplace stress

New research from reveals that 1 in 5 SME owners suffer from Imposter Syndrome – the fear of being exposed in your job as a fraud, inadequate or a failure despite evidence proving you’re successful and capable.

Nearly half of those affected are even convinced someone else could run their business better.

With procrastination and avoiding opportunities widely acknowledged by owners experiencing this phenomenon, it’s unsurprising that nearly a third admit that Imposter Syndrome has prevented them from taking their business to the next level.

But self-doubt doesn’t stop there. It affects employees too. Nearly three in ten say they experience imposter feelings – which is a concern for managers wanting the best from their team and the best for their business.

Under-confidence looms large with Imposter Syndrome, the findings suggest. Over half of SME owners affected admit that low self-esteem led them to feeling like an imposter, with four in ten comparing themselves with others and over one in four doubting their decisions.

Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP, who commissioned the research, healthcare, comments:  “Starting a business from scratch or taking the reins of a small organisation is a bold move. With this level of responsibility it’s inevitable to have that voice of self-doubt interrupting your decision making from time to time. But this negative internal talk can give rise to a heightened – and unreasonable – sense of fear that can hinder your chances of progress and success.

“Imposter Syndrome is a widespread but little-known phenomenon so understanding how to overcome fraudulent feelings and nurture a more confident self – and team – will go a long way towards bolstering confidence and performance.”   

Despite a significant proportion of the UK’s workforce feeling like imposters, nearly three-quarters of the people polled said they have never heard of the Imposter Syndrome phenomenon.

To take on those imposter feelings Dr Winwood encourages people to be TRUE:

  • Talk to a supportive friend, colleague or family member – don’t keep your fears to yourself
  • Remind yourself of your successes, document them and be inspired by your achievements
  • Use evidence to dispute and diffuse your inner bully
  • Evaluate how you’ve overcome imposter moments and share your learnings with others

“It’s important not to let self-doubt exacerbate our fear of failure, which may overwhelm us or crush our confidence. Instead, own your fears – use them as a positive, motivating force. Channel your fear into situations that daunt you and push yourself. Ask ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ And go for it, with a more resilient mind-set and a stronger business.” He concludes.

Dr Winwood has created a podcast series explaining his TRUE approach to help not only those experiencing Imposter Syndrome but also for managers wishing to support and nurture employees it affects. With each episode (in turn) exploring Talk, Remind, Use and Evaluate, Mark speaks with four entrepreneurs about their experience of Imposter Syndrome and overcoming it.