December 2023
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TD Magazine

When Doubt Creeps Into Your Mind

Friday, December 1, 2023

New research reveals that leaders question their role ability and fitness.

How often do you overthink a work decision? If you do it even once a month, you're not alone—the person to whom you report has those same issues. Leadership development firm Robin Pou Inc.'s Leadership Doubt Index reveals that 97 percent of successful leaders have questioned an aspect of their leadership.


To be clear, 92 percent of those who questioned their leadership abilities said they do not associate it with impostor syndrome, which the National Institutes of Health describes as "self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals."

Robin Pou Inc. partnered with market research firm Gradient to conduct the research, which entailed surveying 601 business leaders from various industries across the US.

"This new research is important because 'impostor 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," explains company founder Robin Pou. "Executives actually feel extremely qualified for their roles, but they question their leadership abilities in specific situations, and this devolves into full-blown doubt."


In fact, more than half of the respondents question an aspect of their leadership on a monthly basis. The top three qualities leaders question are managing conflict, establishing a thriving culture, and managing change. Further, 41 percent have even considered changing jobs because of their doubts, while 51 percent have questioned whether they can continue being a successful leader.

Uncertainty among leaders isn't new. With traditional work practices, such as the way jobs are organized and where work happens, fading away since the pandemic, Deloitte's 2023 Global Human Capital Trends report notes that a majority (87 percent) of the more than 1,500 C-suite executives surveyed acknowledged the need to adapt to those new workplace practices. However, only 24 percent believed their organizations were prepared to implement new policies to address the changing workplace.

The report suggests organizations should commit to a clear purpose and mission, which could go a long way in alleviating doubts and uncertainty within leadership.

About the Author

Bobby Lewis is a writer for ATD; [email protected].

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