Is Your Boss a Fake? How to Know for Sure

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Do you know if your boss is an imposter? A fake, fearful of being found out for who he really is (or isn’t)? Of course you do. He’s either a total fraud, or has a few psychological issues that really need to be addressed, right?

We’ve all heard of Imposter Syndrome, that nagging feeling that you don’t really measure up. Or that you only got your job because Dad is your boss. “I’m a fraud; everyone knows it, and I’m about to be discovered.”

Here’s a good one: in a recent Medical News Today article (9.29.20), 9%–82% of people experience impostor syndrome. (The numbers may vary depending on who participates in a study.)

But the point must be that at some time or another, almost everyone feels like they’re faking it. The cultural mantra, “fake it till you make it” has apparently been liberally applied.

Since the range of imposters is so wide, I’m guessing you know, have worked for, or fear that you yourself are an imposter in your professional occupation.

Much. And I mean MUCH, has been written about how to overcome the horrors of self-doubt and become the authentic person you are meant to be. So I won’t go there in this forum.

Rather, I’m more concerned about what to do with a leader who truly is in the wrong job.

We call that a FIT issue.

And fit issues are at the heart of nearly every single bad, unhealthy or toxic relationship.

Let’s define FIT this way: the perfect match of

· The right person

· In the right position

· At the right time

This brief list covers a broad range of issues like: education, experience, preparedness, social and cultural congruence, intelligence (at times) and motivation. When you’ve been assigned the wrong position, you know it. Almost immediately. Your fit issue in this case goes far beyond, “I’m not ready for this job!” or, “I have no idea how to do this job!” Those are normal new-job fears.

No, if any one or more of the constructs listed above are in play, we can diagnose a fit issue.

I know a dean who was hired by a provost several years ago. Here’s a conundrum: both were imposters in their position. The one didn’t know what to look for to fill an important position at his university. As proof, the CV of the dean he hired listed among his past professional positions one with a subtitle of “dean” — without bothering to inquire if that suggested a good fit for the open slot, he happily fulfilled his task and hired the wrong person.

Imposter finds imposter. Why? Because the provost, an imposter himself was totally ill-prepared for the position he inherited. And in this case, he had no clue what were the necessary SKAs to find in a leader for a specialty school. And the hired truly had no experience being a dean over an entire school. As it’s turned out, the perfect storm was created by the proverbial blind leading the blind.

So what to do if your boss truly is an imposter?

Dr. Kelly Meier, a specialist in educational leadership, offers a few suggestions I’ve adapted to our theme. These may help:

· Get to know your boss; I’d add, get to know him better.

Regardless of your current assessment of him, his competence or incompetence and your frustrations with his leadership, most likely, he’s there because someone thought he could do the job.

Start by building a more meaningful relationship with him. Find out how he interacts, communicates and delegates best. What’s his style? How might you find ways to fit in with him rather than hopelessly hoping he’ll somehow adapt to you and your style?

· Do your best work, regardless of how he does his work.

Resist the strong urge to point out your boss’s flaws. Focus instead on doing the very best work you can do within your sphere of influence and authority. You do you. Let others determine what to do with your imposter boss.

· When necessary, document everything. Keep a notebook that includes all communication: verbal, written, etc. Hopefully, this “paper trail” will never be used. But just in case…

· If your work environment becomes increasingly difficult or toxic, take care of yourself.

A meta-analysis by the Behavioral Science & Policy Association reported that employees who experience a highly stressful work environment are 50 percent more likely to experience health issues. As a final result and if nothing you try seems to improve your situation, find a new job. Ultimately, you need to preserve your sanity and health.

· Finally, and I argue most importantly, stop bad-mouthing your boss. Spreading gossip and rumors about him or his behavior or failures really does nothing but diminish you.

And even if you feel better for the moment, you have caused dissension and spread toxicity in your workplace.

I love this ancient proverb, “The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a trap to their very lives.” (Prov. 18:7)

Norm Mintle