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Impostor phenomenon: considerations for leadership practice

Megan S. Downing (Department of Political Science, Criminal Justice and Organizational Leadership, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, USA)
Nana Arthur-Mensah (Department of Political Science, Criminal Justice and Organizational Leadership, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, USA)
Jeffrey Zimmerman (Department of Political Science, Criminal Justice and Organizational Leadership, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, USA)

International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior

ISSN: 1093-4537

Article publication date: 18 March 2020

Issue publication date: 22 April 2020

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Abstract

Purpose

The impostor phenomenon (IP) is a psychological cycle experienced by individuals who, despite successes, are plagued by self-doubt and a concern of being identified as fraudulent. IP research is typically focused on the psychological well-being of those who experience IP, examining antecedents and outcomes of IP. Research on organizational impact is limited with few studies examining IP’s influence on leadership practices. The purpose of this paper is to discuss IP and explore the value of mitigating IP’s negative effects with a view to developing a conceptual model that illustrates IP in context with leaders.

Design/methodology/approach

Using a scoping literature review methodology, this paper draws on identity theory to explore and discuss the relevance of IP to organizations and leadership practice.

Findings

Following a review of relevant literature, the authors propose a conceptual model that illustrates IP’s impact on organizational leaders’ capacity to practice leadership due to conflicting identity standards and diminished self-efficacy. Implications for organizational leadership development as well as leadership practice, theory, and research are discussed.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is a theoretical analysis, not an empirical study, however, it presents a conceptual model that provides perspective on IP and its relevance to leadership as well as the organizational value of and suggestions for mitigating IP.

Originality/value

A greater understanding of IP and IP’s potential consequences on leadership in the workplace may contribute to organizational interventions that mitigate IP's impact on leaders and the organizations they serve.

Keywords

Citation

Downing, M.S., Arthur-Mensah, N. and Zimmerman, J. (2020), "Impostor phenomenon: considerations for leadership practice", International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 173-187. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOTB-05-2019-0065

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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