Becoming a manager is weird.
Overnight, you go from being a member of the team to the person people look to for answers. You’re not just responsible for your own performance anymore. The professional life of each team member rests in your hands.
Meanwhile, you’re afraid of people seeing the all-too-human man(ager) behind the curtain.
The feeling that you’re not qualified for your job or deserving of your success is known as impostor syndrome. While the term was originally used to describe high-achieving women who couldn’t internalize their own success, the phenomenon cuts across gender lines. In fact, studies have found that 70% of people feel like an impostor at work at some point in their lives.
Even though impostor syndrome is common, it’s also worth taking seriously. If these feelings go unchecked, they can lead to anxiety, depression, burnout, and poor performance at work.
So, how do you know if you’ve got impostor syndrome? You take our quiz, of course!
The following questions are inspired by the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale, created by one of the clinical psychologists who originally coined the term. We’ve tailored our questions to reflect common issues managers face, especially when they’re just starting out.
When you finish, tally up your answers. Then, we’ll tell you what those answers say about you and how you can adapt your style to become a more confident leader.
The 8-Question Impostor Syndrome Quiz
- When people ask how you got promoted to management, what do you say?
A. It was a total fluke. I honestly have no idea why they picked me.
B. Things were a mess, and they needed to promote someone. I guess I seemed like the best option.
C. My manager thought I would be a good fit for management, and I agreed. Then I worked on building up leadership skills until I got the promotion.
D. I was the highest-performing member of the team, so they wanted to give me more responsibility.
- When a team member asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, what do you do?
A. Apologize profusely. Tell them you’re still new at this and don’t know everything yet.
B. Drop everything else you’re doing and devote yourself wholeheartedly to finding the answer.
C. Say you’re not sure, but you’ll look into it. In the meantime, direct them to some resources that might help.
D. Make something up on the spot. It will probably be the right answer.
- How do you feel about getting feedback from your team and your supervisors?
A. One word: dread. I’m terrified of what they might say, even though it usually turns out to be fine.
B. I crave praise, but I find it hard to really absorb it. I take criticism very hard.
C. I try and use positive and negative feedback to get better at my job without taking it too personally.
D. I really don’t pay much attention to feedback. I’m my own biggest fan and toughest critic.
- You have a new idea on how to run your team better. What do you do?
A. Say nothing. You don’t want to rock the boat.
B. Create an elaborate presentation, complete with graphs, to show the merits of your idea.
C. Run your idea by your supervisor and your team to test the waters. If people are interested, move forward.
D. Just do it. Once everyone sees how well it works, they’ll get on board.
- How often are you satisfied with your work?
A. Only if multiple people reassure me that I did a good job.
B. Rarely. I mostly notice my mistakes and think about how I can improve.
C. Often. I make an effort to celebrate wins for myself and my team.
D. My personal work? All the time. My team’s work? Not very often.
- What’s your impression of other managers?
A. I’m intimidated by them and afraid I don’t deserve to be on their level.
B. I’m obsessed with catching up to them and becoming the highest performer.
C. I try to learn from them while keeping my own style.
D. I ignore them. I’m doing my own thing.
- When you’re feeling anxious about work, who do you talk to about it?
A. I try not to talk about it but sometimes end up blurting things out to my team.
B. My friends and family. I don’t want anyone at work to know I’m struggling.
C. My supervisor and other managers who can hopefully relate to the problem and give advice.
D. No one. Dealing with anxiety is my responsibility.
- What is the biggest worry you have about being a manager?
A. That everyone thinks I’m more competent than I really am, and soon they’ll learn the truth.
B. That I’ll never learn enough to be the best.
C. That I’ll make a mistake that hurts my team.
D. That I’ll fail at being a good leader, instead of just a good worker.
Now tally up your scores!
Mostly A: Classic Impostor Syndrome
You feel like a fraud in the most literal sense. It seems like everyone around you is a real “grown-up” manager, and soon they’re going to realize that you’re just a phony who’s making it up as you go along.
Managers with this variety of impostor syndrome are so afraid of failure that it can paralyze them and keep them from doing their best work. New managers sometimes try to cope by sharing their struggles with their team, but that kind of vulnerability can work against you. You have to project confidence to do your job, even if that means faking it until you make it.
How to deal: Keep track of your achievements, even if that means making a little folder labeled “wins” on your desktop. Open it every time you feel like you got your job by mistake.
The truth is, you are still learning, and you’re going to make mistakes. But it’s pointless to compare yourself to other people, especially when they have different skills and levels of experience. (Anyway, they’re making mistakes of their own.) Don’t expect anyone else’s judgment–whether positive or negative–to validate your worth.
Remember your boss already decided you deserve to be a manager. The only one who can convince you it’s true is you.
Mostly B: Overachiever Impostor
If you fall into this category, you’re probably feeling pretty guilty right now that you’re taking a quiz when you could be working. Like the classic impostor syndrome sufferer, you’re afraid you don’t deserve to be a manager. You overcompensate by working harder than everyone else.
People who answer mostly Bs are likely to fit the “perfectionist” or “Superwoman/man” profile in author Valerie Young’s article on the five different types of impostor syndrome.
These are the types who always feel they have to prove themselves. They have a hard time relaxing and forgiving themselves for mistakes. Praise bounces right off them, but criticism feels like a personal blow. To stay ahead, they try to be the best at everything.
But pushing yourself too hard is just going to make you miserable. Worse, you’re setting a bad example for your team by modeling a work culture of overworking. In the long run, your drive to prove yourself will put you and your team on the road to burnout.
How to deal: Set concrete, incremental goals for your professional development, instead of trying to be an expert in everything overnight. Also, set limits on your working hours and make sure you don’t neglect your interests outside the office. Having hobbies that let you blow off stress will make you even better when you come back to the office.
Mostly C: Healthy Balance
Congratulations, you well-adjusted rockstar! You’re doing a great job of managing your anxiety about being a manager. You hold yourself to a high standard but don’t expect yourself to never make a mistake. Even better, you know nobody else expects that either. You don’t pretend to have all the answers, but you’re still confident in your ability to rise to any challenge.
At least you are today.
How to deal: The truth is, you’ll probably have to grapple with self-doubt at some point during your career. But keep up your good habits, and you’ll be ready to face it when it comes.
Mostly D: Solo Artist
Ds are what Valerie Young describes as the “soloist:” someone who has to do everything themselves.
That might sound like the height of self-confidence (or even arrogance), but it’s actually another form of impostor syndrome in disguise. A solo artist insists on doing everything their way because they think asking for help is a sign of weakness.
That kind of independence might make you stand out when you’re an individual contributor, but it’s problematic in a manager. Managers have to delegate and collaborate to be successful. If you try to be a “10x manager,” you’ll end up alienating your team and potentially overworking them.
How to deal: Shift your definition of success. You won’t prove you deserve to be a manager by doing your whole team’s work yourself. Even if that were possible, it’s not the job description. As a leader, your success is now measured by how you help your team succeed and grow.
Start by investing more in your relationships with them in your one on one meetings. Ask questions and solicit feedback from your team, your peers, and your supervisor. They won’t judge you for not knowing everything; they’ll respect you for having the courage to ask.
Show Impostor Syndrome Who’s Boss
Becoming a manager can be intimidating, challenging, and awkward, all at once. But these feelings don’t mean you’re a fluke. Even if you sometimes feel like the only Avenger without a superpower, you really do belong. (Unless you are Hawkeye, in which case you really do not belong and were presumably invited into the Avengers by mistake.)
Remember, you still have the same good qualities that made your boss want to promote you. Don’t let a new job title make you forget it.
Ready to start having better one-on-one conversations?
Learn how with our free guide to improving your one-on-ones.