Understanding the Impostor Phenomenon among Employees in Innovative Organizations

Basima Tewfik, MIT Sloan School of Management

Abstract: The impostor phenomenon is the individual proclivity to believe that one has fooled those around them into adopting an overly positive view of oneself. Studies have shown that at least two out of five successful people have this proclivity. Importantly, this experience has been thought to be prevalent among entrepreneurs and employees working in innovative organizations. Yet, we know little about how experiencing this phenomenon can shape important consequences like creative performance. To address this omission in the literature, I take a mixed-methods approach. First, I conduct a qualitative, inductive analysis using 251 news articles and blog posts to elicit a contemporary conceptualization of the impostor phenomenon and outline its relationships with work-related outcomes. I then seek to test the emergent theory among a population of employees. The upshot of this work will be a theory and empirical test that provides novel insights in management and organizational behavior, including the literatures of creativity, decision making, motivation, and emotional burnout while also providing guidance for practitioners.