Many people wear a mask at work – of competency and of being in control. But sometimes behind this lies the anxiety that they are incapable of doing their job and a fear of being found out. As a result they go to unhealthy extremes to ensure they get things right in an effort to avoid what they imagine could be a catastrophic outcome if exposed.
Most people will have experienced these feelings in their working lives, and such self-doubt can be healthy. Reflecting on one’s strengths and limitations is essential and makes people strive harder at work. Furthermore, the damaging consequences of the extreme opposite characteristics – stubbornness, arrogance and denying one’s limitations – have been seen in the chief executives who led their companies to irresponsible risk-taking and ruin. Feelings of insecurity are particularly common when people are promoted to a leadership position.
But it is when these anxieties fail to subside, even when one becomes settled in the new role, that the problem can become serious. The individual’s creative performance and ability to manage are affected. Moreover, the tension between how these individuals perceive themselves and the image they project can become intolerable. Such people usually dismiss their success, putting it down to luck or personal charm rather than skill. They cover their imagined incompetence with excessive work and perfectionist traits in a desperate attempt to appear in control and avoid mistakes.
One man who reached a senior level in the information technology sector describes his predicament: “You never let yourself go, you always feel you have to be in control of the situation, you’re never comfortable in your own skin. You try to give the impression that you are. I’m good at presenting myself as a relaxed person but it’s all simmering underneath.”