7 Signs the Insecure Leader on the Team … Is You

Ever feel a little insecure as a leader?

You’re not alone.

Insecurity is something I’ve battled, and I can think of almost no-one in leadership who hasn’t struggled with it at some point, including most very successful leaders.

Insecurity is that awkward lack of confidence that makes you too aggressive in some settings, and too passive and resigned in others. It makes you hide from who you really are from others, and honestly, it makes you hide from yourself.

Finally, insecurity drains the life out of your leadership and ultimately out of you.

Insecure leaders have a hard time identifying the fact that they’re insecure, because, well, insecurity feels normal to them.

The challenge is as an insecure person, your behaviour will make perfect sense to you but not to anyone else.

So rather than having that happen, why not look for the signs insecurity is impacting your life and leadership now?

Here are 7 signs that the insecure leader in the room is you:

1. YOU WANT TO HAVE ALL THE BEST IDEAS

Insecure people end up being controlling people.

Insecurity makes you want to ensure that all the best ideas flow from you or through you, so you can claim credit.

That way, as your insecurity recognizes, when people talk about your organization, they’ll talk about you. And when your team thinks about you, they’ll think about how bright you are.

While that may feel good in the moment, over the long term it’s draining and vision-thwarting.

The problem, of course, is that this assumes you have all the best ideas, which is never the case and (especially for pastors) completely unscriptural. (There’s something about the gifts of God residing in the people of God in the scripture.)

Second, if all the best ideas need to come from you, your organization won’t have that many great ideas. You’re not that smart. Really.

But your insecurity needs you to be that.

And everyone and everything suffers as a result.

2. YOU FEEL SECRETLY THREATENED BY GREAT TALENT

Insecurity and fear are frequent companions.

Your insecurity will make you fear people who are more gifted than you or better than you.

As a result, just like when you need to have all the best ideas, because you feel threatened by talent, you’ll exclude them from your team, never invite them to your meetings, keep them off the platform and otherwise exclude them from your life.

By the way, this doesn’t just apply to staffing. It applies to volunteers as well.

Your most capable volunteers will sense your ambivalence toward them, and eventually they’ll leave.

Here’s what you need to realize: an insecure leader’s sense of smallness always drives big talent away.

3. 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?

Envy and jealousy drive an insecure leader’s emotions whenever there’s a win on the team, and that’s never good for anyone.

For you to win, someone else does not have to lose.  Life is not a zero sum game, especially not life in the Kingdom of God.

Ask yourself: if you can’t compliment someone else, why not?

4. YOUR RESULTS ARE YOUR REWARD

So this one’s hard.

I’m a driven person…but making your results your reward will leave you in perpetual insecurity forever.

Making your results your reward works just fine when everything’s up and to the right. But the moment something that’s a downturn, you crash.

As Tim Keller has pointed out, if you let success go to your head, failure will go to your heart.

The reason making your results your reward is that you assign your happiness to something beyond your control. Hard work and faithful leadership don’t always result in record years.

If you want to be perpetually insecure, make results your reward.

5. YOU’RE CONSTANT COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS

Teddy Roosevelt was right. Comparison is the thief of joy.

Yet many of us will live our lives trying to pretend that’s not true.

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.

Your worth as a person and as a leader is not established in comparison to anyone else. It was established on a cross on a hillside outside of Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

Your value doesn’t depend on what you think you’re worth or what anyone else thinks you’re worth. It depends on what God thinks you’re worth.

6. YOU SETTLE FOR IMITATION BECAUSE YOU’RE SCARED OF INNOVATION

Insecure leadership makes you feel like you’re stuck in middle school, forever.

Are your clothes cool enough? What about your hair? Do you have what it takes to go to the next level? Probably not…so you just copy whoever you determine the cool kid is right now.

Imitation kills innovation. You won’t innovate when you’re imitating.

As hard as it is to believe, God made you to be you for a reason.

He gave you your voice, not someone else’s.

He gave you your body, not someone else’s.

And he gave you your mind, not the mind of another leader.

It’s fine to have heroes. It’s great to learn from other people who are masters at what they do.

But pretty much all the people you admire got to where they’re at not because they were trying to be someone else, but because they took the gifting God had given them and developed it.

Learn from others. Leverage what God gave you.

In the process, you’ll develop your voice. God longs to hear it. After all, he created you.

7. YOUR ASSUMING AGE WILL MAKE THIS BETTER

So maybe you’re a young leader or mid-way through your leadership run, and you think when I hit 40 (or why I hit 50), all my internal angst will be resolved, right? 

Wrong.

If you live insecure, you’ll die insecure. You don’t outlive insecurity. You outgrow it.

Working on your insecurity today will help you become more secure tomorrow. There’s no other way around it.

The only way to become a more secure leader is to grow. 

HOW DO YOU BECOME MORE SECURE? (PRACTICAL HELP)

If you recognize yourself in this post, just know there’s help and there’s hope.

I tackle some critical issues leaders face my book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences. 

One of them is pride. Far more leaders grow proud because of insecurity than by narcissism.

I know…you’re thinking…but I’m insecure. I feel bad about myself. How can that be pride?

Well, if pride is an obsession with self, then (surprisingly) insecure people qualify as proud. After all, insecurity makes you think about you all the time.

In Didn’t See It Coming, I not only outline how insecurity shows up in your life, I show you how to overcome it.

I also tackle other issues leaders struggle with like cynicism, burnout, irrelevance (and more). You don’t have to let your past or present your future.

You can get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here (hardcover, AudioBook or Kindle) and once again (or for the first time) discover how to thrive in life leadership.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto and is author of several books, including his latest #1 best-selling work, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth. He writes one of today’s most widely read church leadership blogs at careynieuwhof.com and hosts the top-rated Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast where he interviews some of today’s best leaders.