Successful leaders struggle with chronic doubt about leadership

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Robin Pou Inc. has released the results of the first-ever Leadership Doubt Index, which casts light on the newly discovered concept of Leadership Doubt and reveals significant implications for leaders and their companies as they navigate increasing uncertainty.

“All successful leaders experience what we call Leadership Doubt,” said Robin Pou, author, executive coach, and founder of the Leadership Doubt Index.

“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. Executives actually feel extremely qualified for their roles, but they question their leadership abilities in specific situations, and this devolves into full-blown doubt.”

The Leadership Doubt Index findings shine a new light on how doubt is a huge issue plaguing executives, yet it has remained under the radar until now due to leaders’ fear of looking weak or losing credibility.

Mr. Pou concluded: “This groundbreaking research is an important milestone on the path to normalize the concept of Leadership Doubt. If leaders can identify their doubt, they can develop strategies to overcome it so they can lead effectively.”

Key Takeaways from the Leadership Doubt Index:

Successful leaders question a critical aspect of their leadership and experience Leadership Doubt

  • 97% of successful leaders have questioned an aspect of their leadership
  • 92% do not associate with the term “imposter syndrome,” which is currently the primary term used to articulate a feeling when leaders are uncertain about their abilities
  • A majority of leaders (56%) question an aspect of their leadership on a monthly basis
  • The top-3 leadership skills questioned are managing conflict (57%), establishing a thriving culture (54%), and managing change (53%)
  • Over half (54%) experience long-term, chronic leadership doubt

Workload and team performance issues were the most commonly reported triggers of Leadership Doubt

  • The top-3 triggers for successful leaders questioning their abilities: managing a huge workload (28%), a team’s inability to perform (24%), and industry disruption (22%)

Leaders don’t typically like to discuss their Leadership Doubt

  • The top-3 reasons leaders don’t discuss doubt: fear of losing credibility (29%), looking weak (29%), and believing they must have all the answers (28%)

Leadership Doubt has significant negative impacts:

  • Leadership Doubt has had a significant impact on a leaders’ effectiveness to innovate (61%), create a compelling vision (59%), and delegate (58%)
  • 32% of leaders attribute negative revenue growth to their leadership doubt
  • Top Leaders are significantly more likely than Established Leaders2 to report negative impact on overall performance and revenue growth.
  • A majority of leaders who experience Leadership Doubt report it has caused them to feel more burned out (65%) and have less job satisfaction (55%)
  • The most frequent maladaptive coping mechanisms are a tendency to be short-tempered (35%) and overly critical (33%)

Despite efforts to resolve their Leadership Doubt, leaders face an overwhelming doubt about their overall fitness for leadership

  • A shocking 41% have considered changing jobs as a result of Leadership Doubt, and slightly over half (51%) wonder if they can be successful as a leader going forward