It stands to reason that managers often favor people that are like them. A recent study, from the Frankfurt School of Management, highlights how this can often extend to negative character traits as well as positive ones.
The study focused on what’s known as the imposter phenomenon. This is when people doubt themselves to the extent that they believe their position is undeserved and you’ll be rumbled at any time.
The research found that when such people are in management situations, rather than delegating tasks to those that are confident and assured, they’re more likely to favor people who also feel unworthy.
Participants were first required to take a survey to better understand both their personality and also their propensity for imposterism. Did they feel like a fake, for instance or attribute their current position to good fortune?
They were then required to delegate a number of work activities that were split evenly between routine tasks and more challenging tasks. They were given the profiles of a number of candidates they could delegate each task to.
All of the profiles were similar in that they presented the candidate as qualified, competent and full of desire to succeed. The only difference was in their confidence. One group were described as self-confident, whilst the other were described as doubting their abilities.
Holding a mirror up
The results revealed that when it came to delegating, the managers who scored highly for imposterism much preferred to delegate the work to those like them, and this was true regardless of the difficulty of the task.
The authors suggest this is largely because managers simply see something of themselves in the candidate, and therefore choose those that are most like them, even if alternative choices may logically have been better.
There may also be a degree of sympathy at play, with managers empathizing with fellow ‘imposters’ and attempting to give them a helping hand, but that doesn’t really explain the delegation of more menial tasks.
So what does this mean for organizations? On one hand it’s a positive that managers may be helping employees that lack confidence and belief in their abilities.
On the other hand, it reminds us of the challenges we face when it comes to diversity at work, with managers seemingly keener to support those like them than those who stand apart.
Hopefully, as with most research of this nature, it will help to alert managers to the biases inherent in their work, and this knowledge can help them to mitigate their clouded decision making.