10 signs of an insecure leader

Sometimes even leaders need a hug.

Insecurity is the Achilles’ heel of the thoughtful leader. Even the most capable leaders will stumble if they start to lack confidence in their abilities. That is, if they don’t remain aware of and cater for their insecurities. It is normal and acceptable to be an insecure leader, some of the time. It is not acceptable to let your insecurity cripple your decision making and taint your normally sound thought process.

Watch our for these signs of an insecure leader. Use them to remain vigilant against the spread of leadership insecurity which results in bad behaviour. Just because you feel insecure sometimes, does not mean you need to act like an insecure leader.

1. An insecure leader stops taking team input

When a leader feels insecure, they often stop taking the advice or suggestions of their team. Teams work better when they feel as if they can speak up freely. There is far more chance of improving a team’s performance when you aren’t solely reliant on the leader to be the smartest person in the room.

An insecure leader will stop taking input from their team, because they feel as if this lets people challenge their authority. This quickly turns into, it’s “my way or the highway”.

2. An insecure leader stops explaining their decisions

Confident leaders don’t mind explaining the reasoning behind their decisions. This is because they feel their decisions hold up under scrutiny, but also because they are not scared of possibly being convinced of another option.

An insecure leader will stop explaining their decisions because this openness gives people a chance to criticise their process. They feel like the less visibility they give others, the less chance that anyone will scrutinise them. Once this happens, transparency is reduced and the trust between a leader and team can rapidly diminish.

3. An insecure leader stops asking for help

When a leader feels insecure, they see asking for help as a sign of weakness. Asking for help is strongly related to learning. When you ask for help, you generally ask somebody more experienced for assistance and you learn from them. Insecure leaders don’t like to be seen to ask for help or to need to learn. They feel as if they should know it all.

A reader told me a story recently. She had just started a new management position and hadn’t been formally trained in leading a team before. She signed up for a new manager’s course at her new workplace. When she did so, the organiser said it was a great move. “So many other managers here could use this course, but they never sign up for it.”

Why don’t the other managers sign up? Because they feel they should “know it already”. But who says? Drop the ego.

4. An insecure leader isn’t interested in feedback

I’ve seen insecure leaders get annoyed when their team asks for feedback. Insecure leaders don’t value feedback, because they fear it. Instead of seeing the good aspects of feedback, they shy away from it because of its confronting nature.

Feedback is seen as a bad thing because it exposes the insecure leader. If such a leader were to openly ask for feedback, they feel as if they are opening themselves to attack. Unfortunately, this attitude only reinforces itself and before long, insecure leaders have shut the door to improving their leadership.

Insecure leaders also shy away from giving feedback. They feel that if they provide bad feedback to somebody, that person could turn around and criticise them right back. Instead, what we normally see is complete silence, where no feedback is provided in either direction!

5. An insecure leader uses directive leadership as their primary style

Directive leadership is all about providing direction. Commanding your troops on what to do. It has its place, for certain. However, some insecure leaders use this style exclusively because it provides little two-way communication. Therefore, it reduces the chance that someone will feel they can “talk back” to the leader.

“Just do what I say” is code for “I’m scared that I’m wrong and I don’t want anyone to tell me that.”

6. An insecure leader avoids issues that may result in confrontation

On the flip side, some insecure leaders take the opposite approach. Instead of pushing their opinion hard, they will avoid addressing issues that may result in a clash of opinions. This is because if they can avoid the fight entirely, then they can avoid being wrong. They like to avoid being “called out” on their ideas.

What often results is a culture of frustration where long-running problems fail to be addressed. The root of this problem is that the insecure leader feels that if a confrontation were to occur, they would lose. Then they would lose the respect of their team.

7. An insecure leader won’t ask questions, even when they don’t understand

One of the traditional frailties of leadership is that leaders are meant to “know it all”. They are meant to know more than their team, which is why they have more responsibility. As such, some insecure leaders don’t like to ask questions because it highlights that they may not know something.

Unfortunately, often it is painfully obvious when a leader does not know what he is talking about because he has failed to understand a key aspect of a discussion. In reality, there is nothing wrong with asking questions to improve your understanding of a situation.

8. An insecure leader will resort to micromanagement

Insecure leaders crave control. Why? Because when they control situations, they can try to reduce the likelihood that they will somehow become exposed. Micromanagement is one way to exercise control by directing your team as to how things should be done, in minute detail.

Before long, the insecure leader has convinced her team that their opinions don’t matter. They will look for her guidance from now on, and will avoid thinking for themselves. When this happens, the likelihood that a team member will challenge her is slim. This makes the insecure leader feel safe.

9. An insecure leader will take credit for the team’s achievements

Insecure leaders like to take credit for the work of their team. Not because it makes them feel good, but because it makes them seem indispensable. When an insecure leader takes credit, they appear more important and more necessary.

When an insecure leader feels important, they feel safe. They feel less exposed because they have proven themselves to be valuable. Taking the credit is not about the glory for an insecure leader, it is a way to reduce the risk of being “found out”.

10. An insecure leader will get angry when their team members resign

When a team member resigns, it can be confronting for an insecure leader.

Was it my fault? Did I do something wrong? Am I a bad leader?

Instead of processing these feelings constructively and rationally, an insecure leader will feel angry.

They are so ungrateful. They have no loyalty. They don’t know how good they’ve got it.

This helps the insecure leader focus on the faults of others, rather than introspectively looking at their own. This way, they feel safe. It’s not *my* fault. It is *their* fault.

Pay attention to this list. Sometimes you’ll find yourself resorting to insecure behaviour without even knowing it. That’s only natural. It’s only when it becomes a standard way of operating that the real issues arise.

Just because you feel insecure, does not mean that you need to act that way. You are in control of your actions, even if your thoughts sometimes lack confidence.

Originally published at www.thoughtfulleader.com on April 17, 2017.

Author: Ben Brearley