Superiority Complex – Imposter Syndrome’s Evil Twin


Imposter Syndrome has been getting a lot of press lately. A few of my favorite recent examples include a blog post by Seth Godin and a video by Mike Cannon-Brookes (co-founder of Atlassian).

In her TED Talk on this subject, Lou Solomon said that 70% of successful people experience self-doubt and feelings of being a fraud. But Imposter Syndrome has an evil twin – Superiority Complex.

BossFor every person who lacks self-confidence, there is another who has an extra measure of it.

How can you tell if you suffer from Superiority Complex? Here’s a simple test in the form of a question.

Would you treat a direct report differently if you suddenly discovered they were…?

  • Related to the CEO
  • Being groomed to become your future boss
  • Outrageously wealthy (and just working for personal fulfillment)

Take a moment and consider the possibility of these hypothetical scenarios. How would your leadership style change if any one of them were true?

  • If you had to fear what they would say to their aunt (the CEO), what would you do differently on a daily basis?
  • If you knew you’d soon report to them, how would that affect your behavior?
  • How would your respect for someone as a person change if you found out they were crazy rich?

The bigger question is, “Should any of these scenarios change your view of someone or the way you treat them?”

The Good Doctor

The_Good_Doctor_2017In the pilot episode of ABC’s new drama, The Good Doctor, one of the senior surgeons confronts a nurse with these words, “I am your SUPERIOR which makes you…”

He pauses hoping she’ll verbally concede to being “inferior” to him but she doesn’t take the bait. She has too much self-respect to admit to being inferior simply because her role is different than the surgeon’s.

Although few would be as brazen as the surgeon in this drama, the way many managers treat their staff is just as arrogant and obnoxious.

  • When a fast food manager belittles a cashier in front of a customer for getting an order wrong – that’s as painful as being called “inferior.”
  • When a senior executive cuts someone off mid-sentence during a team meeting and changes the subject – that makes them look inferior.

Superiority Complex Sufferers are Everywhere

It always makes something sound more official when you give it an acronym so let’s go with SCS (Superiority Complex Sufferers).

SCS’s are all too common, infiltrating every business sector (I’m sure you have a story or two to share) and I am convinced that part of the reason is that they somehow forget that rank affects decision rights, not human rights.

To quote the great philosopher, Horton the Elephant, “A person’s a person no matter how small.


Abraham Lincoln has been credited with saying, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

SCS’s can’t handle authority without it going to their head. They may have been a kind and gracious coworker when they were first hired but upon promotion, they suddenly change and become demeaning and condescending.

Tomas Kucera posted an excellent article about this phenomenon.

Equal Respect

The opening question to this article was intended to help us remember that everyone is worthy of equal respect – temps, interns, the cleaning crew, the UPS driver, the Jimmy John’s delivery guy…everyone!

JediFight the tendency to become an SCS by periodically playing a Jedi Mind Trick on yourself. 

Pretend that each one of your direct reports is related to your CEO, is on track to become your future boss, and is outrageously wealthy.

See if this antidote can keep you from becoming an SCS.

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