The Imposter – Hubris Scale

Stuart Farquharson

If you’re like me, at some stage in your life or career you may have felt the overwhelming and crushing weight of Imposter Syndrome – that feeling of self-doubt or inadequacy without having any real evidence that you are not up to the task. This often-cited mental challenge has the potential to inhibit sleep or cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, in a sweat, thinking that you are not good enough. 

If you have experienced this feeling or something similar, then you are definitely not alone. In fact, many successful business people and entrepreneurs are all too familiar with Imposter Syndrome.

This got me thinking, what if everyone sits on a scale ranging from extreme Imposter Syndrome (which is completely debilitating and can lead to various other mental health challenges), to extreme and unjustified overconfidence (where people make poor or rash decisions with negative impacts)? 

Foolish pride and often hazardous over-confidence is also known as ‘hubris’ – behaviour akin to a boxer before they fight telling everyone how great they are. The imposter – hubris scale would be a fluid scale on which every person is placed, constantly sliding up and down, depending on a range of internal and external factors. 

Internal factors affecting your position on the scale may include personal health, hormone levels, mental health, sleep, etc… and external factors may include family, relationships, type of work, and colleagues or managers.

Neither end of the imposter – hubris scale would be an ideal place to be as both would cause unwanted consequences for both the individual and their work. This scale is similar to the study of hormesis where nothing is bad for you; however, the dosage received can have a positive or negative impact. We need to experience the correct amount of ‘imposter’ and ‘hubris’ to be stable, effective, efficient, confident, and innovative in life and the workplace. 

Imposter Syndrome and Hubris – What is the Right Balance?

So… what is the correct amount? Looking into Imposter Syndrome a little deeper, I came across a couple of Scotsmen, John Holt, and Dr Marc Reid, who refused to call it a syndrome and rather referred to it as a phenomenon

It is a phenomenon because you essentially need a certain dosage of imposter to drive the need and want to learn, innovate and try new things to get better. In other words, the word syndrome implies negativity, and something clinical, when the imposter phenomenon implies that it can be used for good. 

When you experience the just the right amount of imposter you are never comfortable with your current scenario and have a certain unease about where your knowledge and capability is at compared to where you want to be. If you experience too much hubris then you run the belief that you cannot be taught anything because you know everything and can do everything already. Just as at the imposter end of the scale, you want to experience just the right amount of Hubris to be confident but not cocky, to deliver work efficiently and effectively.

As leaders and supervisors, our role is to help our employees find this balance.

Between curious and confident is where you are likely to get the most out of your employees. By creating a drive to learn and improve while giving them the confidence to feel as though they are worthy. Remember, the scale is fluid and people are constantly moving up and down the scale so, as a manager, you need to create the environment to bounce your employees between curious and confident and not let them drift too far into hubris or imposter. 

If you find employees heading towards the imposter side of the scale then they need to be reassured and shown vulnerability from upper management. Too often upper management doesn’t want to show their own vulnerability which means their employees place them on an immortal pedestal with no weaknesses. This fallacy also means that the employees see their managers as being towards the hubris end on the scale and believe that is where they should aim for. 

The same misconception applies for those employees who are too far towards the hubris end of the scale. If they experience too much-misguided confidence, they will often create angst amongst the team believing they are better than their colleagues and that they should have been promoted already. This could often lead to employees breaking the chain of command, making large and inappropriate decisions, and sometimes even leading mutinies within the business. To combat this managers and leaders need to find the appropriate level of stress for employees which stimulates critical thinking, creates some unease, and forces a need to learn new things.

Awareness of where your employees currently sit on the imposter – hubris scale is the first step in creating an emotionally healthy workforce as well as creating an environment that inspires innovation, learning, and security.

If you would like to contribute to an on-going scientific study on the imposter phenomenon, you can reach out here saying “I’m interested!”, and join over 400 others who have already taken part in a simple reflective online survey.

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