At some point in our lives and our leadership, we all experience insecurity. And when we act out of that insecurity we tend to behave badly, sometimes harming our relationships and reputation in the process. Especially for leaders, insecurity affects not only ourselves but also those around us.
Because when an insecure leader thinks everything is about them as a result, every action, every choice, ever decision is put through the filter of their own self-centeredness, which doesn’t really serve others well.
Here are 10 of the top signals that insecurity may be damaging your leadership. If any of these sound familiar, stop the behavior and work through the issues before major consequences result.
You become defensive when challenged. When an insecure leader feels they’re being challenged or confronted, their first response is to feel they’re in the wrong—and to avoid that discord they quickly become defensive. Learn to welcome direct, honest communication even if it’s not what you want to hear; make peace with the fact that you will sometimes get it wrong.
You micromanage. Insecure leaders like to control everything, even how other people do their work. They feel the more control they have the less likely they’ll be faced with a better way. Instead, give autonomy to your team and allow them to show off their talents and strengths.
You’re not interested in feedback. Insecure leaders get annoyed when their team members or colleagues want to give them feedback. They see it as a confrontation and respond with fear and dismissal. Become familiar enough with your own strengths and weaknesses to take criticism in stride.
You refuse to explain your decisions. Insecure leaders fear that the rationale for their decision may not hold up well, so they communicate decisions with no underlying explanation. Explain your decisions and the reasons behind your thinking so others can understand and trust your choices.
You stop listening to other people’s opinions. Insecure leaders see asking questions, seeking advice and listening to the opinions of others as a sign of weakness. They don’t want to be perceived as needing help. Emulate confident leaders by being willing to listen and learn from the opinions of others. In time you’ll realize that it’s actually a sign of strength.
You always have to have final word. Insecure leaders need to be seen as always winning—even in an honest difference between two sound opinions. Learn to value the thoughts of others, especially in areas you need to know more about.
You get angry when a team members resigns. Insecure leaders see any departure as a reflection on their leadership, so they respond in anger and focus on the faults of the person who’s leaving. When you lose a valued team member, take stock and ask yourself whether there’s anything you should do differently to keep your best people happy and productive.
You blame others. When things go wrong, an insecure leader will never take responsibility but will always blame others first so they can avoid thinking about the possibility that they did something wrong or made a bad decision. Work to be secure enough in your leadership to say, “I messed up—let’s go make it better now.”
You take credit for your team’s achievements. Insecure leaders like to take credit for other people’s work—not because it makes them feel better, but because it makes them seem indispensable and helps ease their fears of being unnecessary or unworthy. Emulate the great leaders who know success takes a team, and be quick to praise and recognize the achievements of others. (By the way, that’s also the best way to make yourself look good.)
You don’t promote or develop your best people. Insecure leaders want to protect themselves at all costs, and they see the smartest and highest-achieving people around them as threats. They hand out titles only to those they believe will never question their authority or outshine them. As a leader, the best success you can achieve is the success of your people.
We all have moments of insecurity. But if any of these descriptions sounds like you, you need to act quickly to change directions. If you can’t do it on your own, recruit the help of a coach or mentor—someone who can help you become more confident in who you are. Left unchecked, your insecurities will affect not only you but also everyone you lead.
Lead from within: An insecure leader must become big enough to admit their mistakes, smart enough to correct them and strong enough to embrace them.
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