Despite high levels of confidence overall, nearly all leaders say they’ve questioned a critical aspect of their leadership, and more than half do so on a monthly basis, according to Sept. 20 survey results from Robin Pou Inc., a leadership development firm.
This leadership doubt appears to be most commonly triggered by a large workload, team performance issues or industry disruption, and leaders reported their doubt often led to burnout, decreased productivity and lower revenue for the company.
“All successful leaders experience what we call Leadership Doubt,” Robin Pou, executive coach and founder of the Leadership Doubt Index, said in a statement.
“This groundbreaking research is an important milestone on the path to normalize the concept of Leadership Doubt,” Pou said. “If leaders can identify their doubt, they can develop strategies to overcome it so they can lead effectively.”
According to the firm’s Leadership Doubt Index, nearly all leaders have questioned some aspect of their leadership, and 54% experience long-term, chronic leadership doubt. Most often, leaders tend to question their ability to manage conflict, establish a thriving culture and manage change.
Beyond that, 41% of leaders have considered changing jobs as a result of their leadership doubt, and 51% have wondered if they can be successful as a leader in the future.
However, 92% don’t associate with the term “imposter syndrome,” which is currently the primary term used to express a feeling of being uncertain about abilities. They also don’t tend to discuss their leadership doubt due to fear of losing credibility, looking weak or believing they must have all of the answers.
“This new research is important because ‘imposter syndrome’ has been the only concept to describe any form of uncertainty about one’s professional role, yet we found top leaders do not resonate with that term,” Pou said. “Executives actually feel extremely qualified for their roles, but they question their leadership abilities in specific situations, and this devolves into full-blown doubt.”
Today’s leadership doubt may be linked to ongoing business uncertainty and a major drop in leadership skills training during the pandemic. For instance, leaders may feel unprepared to handle new ways of working and a skills-based approach, according to a Deloitte report.
Without focused support — through feedback, formal assessments and training — there could be a “lost generation” of leaders, according to a Development Dimensions International survey.
Manager training, for example, should focus on essential skills and practical application, Info-Tech Research Group reported. In turn, effective training programs are associated with better team engagement, decision making and workplace culture.