When you get to know leaders fairly well on a personal level, you realize that a surprising number admit to being insecure. In fact, insecurity has been a battle for me over the years. I don’t know whether you ever completely overcome it, but understanding how it works and what to do about it can really help. In fact, knowing whether you’re insecure is critical to effective leadership. After all, self-awareness is half the battle to realizing your capacity as a leader. The irony, of course, is that even if you’re not aware of your insecurity, everyone around you likely suspects it. At a minimum, they live with the aftereffects every day (read the signs below…trust me…people close to you see them in you). So why not be honest with yourself? Not only will you become a more secure person, but your organization will benefit—not to mention your family and friends.
7 Signs You’re an Insecure Leader
When I look inside of myself and around at others, here are 7 signs that tell me a leader is struggling with insecurity:
1. You can’t celebrate someone else’s success.
This trait is a tell tale sign that you are insecure. Why can’t you just give a compliment? Why can’t you be genuinely happy when someone else succeeds? Life is actually not a zero sum game – at least not life in God’s Kingdom. For you to win, someone else does not have to lose. If you can’t compliment a competitor, why not? If you can’t celebrate a colleague, is it because you are worried others might think they are better than you? You do not need to be the only one who is ‘great’ at something. To become more secure, publicly celebrate someone else’s success.
2. You always throw yourself under the bus…or never do
I’m the first guy to warm up to someone who has a self-deprecating sense of humour. That style of humour is endearing. But if you’re always throwing yourself under the bus, that’s a flag. Humility doesn’t mean you think you’re terrible at everything. True humility recognizes your strength…but doesn’t brag about it. While some people always throw themselves under the bus, other leaders never do. They refuse to admit their weakness. A secure leader can celebrate others, acknowledge their weaknesses, and is always open to growing and learning.
3. You constantly compare yourself to others
We have lots to learn from other people, but insecure people aren’t driven so much by a desire to learn as they are to know whether they are better or worse than others. There is a world of difference between tracking with someone to grow and learn, and tracking other people or organizations to see how you stack up. One is healthy, the other destructive. As Andy Stanley says, there is no win in comparison.
4. Your sense of self-worth is driven by your latest results.
Your opinion of yourself rises and falls with your attendance, blog stats, comment thread, reviews and what others say about you. I’ll be the first to admit I track numbers and metrics like a hawk. But I’ve had to learn not to obsess over them. God’s opinion of me doesn’t change with people’s opinion of me. I need to learn from trends and learn from others, but I cannot let someone else determine my worth. Preachers, you aren’t nearly as good as your last message, or as bad.
5. You make no room for people who are more gifted or competent than you
This aspect of your insecurity has a direct and lethal impact on your organization (not that the others don’t). The sign of a great leader is not that they are the most gifted or competent person in the organization. The sign of a great leader is someone who can attract and keep people more gifted and competent than themselves. The future will belong to people who can forge great alliances, make great partnerships and attract great people. Hire and recruit people who are better than you.
6. You need to be the final word on everything
Insecure people end up being controlling people. You don’t need experts because you want to be the expert. Know-it-alls weren’t much fun in kindergarten; they are less fun in the adult world. The truth is most of us are only great at one or two things, and even then, you became good at it with the help and advice of others. When you value the counsel and input of others–especially on the things you’re best at–you embark on a path toward greater wisdom. Listen as much or more than you speak, and be open to wise counsel. Ironically, you will become more secure as a result.
7. You’re reading this post
Okay maybe that’s not fair, but before you think I’m slamming you, remember I wrote this post, so this catches both of us (right?). I’m always clicking on articles to see if I exhibit signs of one thing or another. Some of that is healthy. Some of it is neurotic. But imagine the day (it’s not that far off) when you’ll see a post with a title like “7 Signs You’re An Insecure Leader” and you won’t feel a compulsion to click. You’ll realize that God has done some work in your heart and on your character, and you are different. That day doesn’t have to be as far away as you think. Keep learning. Keep growing. Those are some signs I’ve seen that mark insecurity in myself and in others. How about you? What have you noticed?