If you’ve ever worried that someone will find out you’re an imposter who actually lacks the level of competence required for your position, then you’re in good company.
Roger Jones, the head of Vantage Hill Partners, a London-based consulting firm, reports that the No. 1 fear of the 116 executives he surveyed is “being found to be incompetent.”
Jones wrote about his survey in an article published by Harvard Business Review last week, “What CEOs Are Afraid Of,” noting that the fear is also known as “imposter syndrome.”
“This fear diminishes their confidence and undermines relationships with other executives,” he wrote.
While not revealing the industries in which the surveyed leaders work beyond noting that 7 percent were in investment and professional services firms, Jones did report that 73 percent were male, and about one-third hold the title CEO or president. The remaining two-thirds were division/business unit leaders or managers reporting to business unit leaders.
Jones also interviewed 27 of the survey participants in depth finding that the fears they mentioned most frequently were losing their reputations and underachieving—”even among seasoned executives.”
Underachieving was also the second-ranked fear in the broader survey.
According to Jones, the fear of underachieving “can sometimes make leaders take bad risks to overcompensate.”
What else do leaders fear?
Taken together, the top five fears spell trouble, or in Jones’s words “dysfunctional behaviors,” including too much political game-playing, too little honest conversation at the executive level, among others.
The “dysfunctional behaviors,” in turn, result in 500 possible bad consequences identified by the executive themselves. Among the consequences are “failing to act unless there’s a crisis,” and “focusing on survival rather than growth,” Jones wrote in the HBR article.
Jones’s article also references academic studies of fears that disrupt executive teams and it includes seven of his own ideas about effective approaches for reducing fear at the top.
On his list are items ranging from increasing self-awareness (approach #1) to putting incentive systems in place to discourage self-interested dysfunctional behaviors (approach #7).
“Organizations should value emotional intelligence as a key executive attribute,” he writes, listing this second among his recommendations.
Source: Harvard Business Review article: “What CEOs Are Afraid Of” by Roger Jones of Vantage Hill Partners, a London-based consulting firm that helps elevate the performance of executive teams.