I’m beginning to believe leaders may be less arrogant and more insecure.
We’ve all bumped into a leader who seemed cocky or arrogant. We chalked it up as pride, but it may be something deeper and more challenging to identify. For you and them.
What is Insecurity?
Not to oversimplify it, but insecurity is uncertainty or anxiety about oneself. It’s an emotion telling our hearts and heads that we don’t have what it takes. That we aren’t good enough. That failure or, worse, exposure is imminent. Insecurity is a breeding ground for imposter syndrome.
Because this emotion is so powerful, people will do just about anything to mask their insecurity.
The Signs of an Insecure Leader
Insecurity in leadership is dangerous — to the individual and those around them. The following signs aren’t necessarily due to insecurity but are often associated with this emotional malady.
Perfectionism: A leader who demands perfection from themselves or others may be insecure. Their insecurity manifests in demanding perfection so as not to experience failure. If you see (or are) a leader with little tolerance for anything other than perfect, insecurity may fuel this fire.
Isolation: Many leaders, like the world around them, are introverts. An insecure leader isn’t a leader who prefers alone time to recharge. An insecure leader isolates themselves from others to protect their vulnerability. When you see a leader who avoids personal conversations or relational connections, insecurity may be to blame. However, these leaders often thrive in large groups or on a stage, as these moments can help them feel successful.
Low Self-Esteem: Insecure leaders can’t let go of criticisms but can’t embrace compliments. A negative comment causes the insecure leader to fear they’ve been found out. Additionally, these critical comments further “prove” they aren’t enough.
On the positive side, insecure leaders struggle to accept compliments because they don’t feel worthy. They feel a triumphant moment might have been more accidental than intentional. And they fear they’ll not be able to replicate it again.
Exhaustion: The feeling of inadequacy causes the insecure leader to work hard to be seen as competent. The sense of inadequacy drives these leaders to overwork and, in many cases, burnout. They blame the workload, their lack of support, or anything else that stands still long enough. But in reality, the exhaustion is self-induced.
Boastful: Insecure leaders cannot help but tell you about their past achievements and successes. A secure leader feels they can allow their current or future work to speak for themselves, but the insecure leader wants to be seen and heard before they earn the right. These leaders often feel entitled because of their past work. They can hardly stand being seen as a peer of anyone they deem lesser than.
One more thing: insecurity causes many to seek personal luxuries or possessions to bolster their image. They are externally “compensating” for an internal lacking.
Impatiently Listening to Give Their Opinion: Insecure leaders pretend to listen to others while preparing their rebuttals or answers. They come across as one with “all the answers,” because their insecurity can’t be caught without a comment, idea, or solution.
NOTE: If you’re a pastor, check this out, too.
We’re All Insecure
The list above isn’t from a psychological blog but an honest assessment of moments from my past.
I’ve always lived with some amount of insecurity. I do today. Although not as bad, I find myself constantly working with leaders, answering questions, creating strategies, and writing posts like this (and a new book releasing in January) while feeling like I have anything of real value to offer.
My solution isn’t to pretend my insecurity is a thing of my past but rather to identify the feelings when they arise and take them captive. When I feel any insecurity creeping into my heart or head or sense a red flag moment from the list above, I try to pause and ask myself, “Where’s that coming from?” This question has allowed me to point to the source of my insecurity and lessen its effect on me and those around me.
Admitting this is a struggle is part of my growth. I openly talk about how insecurity has and can still affect me and my work. When I speak with leaders about their emotions, I try to be vulnerable and open about my insecurities and how I work to lessen their effects.
An Insecurity Antidote
I’m unsure if I (or any of us) will ever entirely remove our insecurity. Leadership brings a weight that plagues these types of feelings. But I have found a great antidote.
“Vulnerability” is such a buzzword, but if you remove the buzz, we find openness and honesty about our lives. When we are vulnerable, we allow others to see us. And we allow us to see ourselves honestly. This is tough, as it’s exposing, but the counter to this exposure is all the negative behaviors from insecurity.
You’ll most likely never remove all the insecurity embedded in your heart along your life journey. Still, you can be open and honest about these feelings and, in doing so, dramatically remove their power.
A Final Question
So the question isn’t, “Are you insecure?”
The question is, “What are you planning to do about your insecurity?”
Look over the list above and see if you can identify your personal behaviors from the list. Do you see any of these traits in your leadership? If you don’t, look a little deeper.