Leadership Insecurity, a Doorway to Greatness!

‘A lot of people who make it to the top lack confidence. They succeed because they work so hard overcompensating for their insecurity. But usually they don’t last.’ Dennis Wu (Partner Delloit Touch, LLP).

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What an increasing numbers of leaders say they would like most to take home from a coaching series or workshop is more confidence — regardless of vocation, experience, education or gender.

Todays leaders have to deal with constant and unpredictable change, and with their inner critic - that little voice of conflict inside their heads that says, “You’re going to mess it up.”

And mess it up I did. As some of you are aware, I am divorced. Besides the death of a family member it was the most traumatic experience I have had the displeasure of enduring.

However, one good thing did come from my experience - an awareness of my insecurities, their effect on my life plans and destructiveness upon my relationships.

‘… those who have strong feelings of insecurity … have little trust and usually have strong material attachments.’ Geoffrey Garrot.

Over time I have managed to turn my insecurities into a signpost for change, a signal for me to pause, look, listen and find a better way to deal with them.

No leader can afford a destructive relationship with insecurity, but some insecurity is to be expected, even at the top.

‘Insecure leaders are like fireworks with a lit fuse. It’s only a matter of time until they explode, and when they do, they hurt everyone close to them.’ John Maxwell

Does it always have to be the case that an insecure leader will destroy?

There is a fine line between being confident and being destructive. “Hanging on to a healthy dose of insecurity helps us stay on the right side of that line.” Butch Ward.

While we may never make an insecurity go away, and I’m not entirely convinced that it is healthy to do so, we can put them in their place and use them to our advantage.

An insecurity can become your “friend.” Maybe not your best friend, but a friend all the same.

Insecurity, used correctly to our advantage, can act as a “pause” button - to operate as a motivator for us to pause, think, and then act; not incorrectly as a signal to act, and then think.

Leaders can turn an insecurity into a motivator to move forwards, as quickly and correctly as possible. Daniel F Pinnow notes that, “Everyone who wants to move forward must therefore plan for insecurity.”

Below are four ideas (developed from Butch Ward) to help pause, plan and turn an insecurity into a motivator to move forwards.

Pause to:

  1. Ask more questions. Don’t fear the input of others, it doesn’t mean you are dumb if you ask questions - use it as a motivator to collect information.

  2. Make a better choice. An insecurity may tells us that we need to make a quick decision (often) based on past experience, but is that experience relevant in this current situation? - use it as a motivator to wait a moment and think.

  3. Value of collaboration. Leading does not mean you have to have all the ideas and answers, you don’t have to be a lone wolf - use it as a motivator to reach out.

  4. Recognise your strengths. Insecurity wants us to look at our weakness - use it as a motivator to build up a data base of strengths.

‘I’ve learned to accept the fact that people with poor self-images can negatively affect my endeavours…’ Herb Pinder (Saskoil, Coal Management Corporation)

Insecurity is (mostly) an incorrect perception of oneself to be inferior in some way. It is most often associated with feelings of nervousness or unease, of being vulnerable.

Recently I have had the pleasure of coaching a very motivated leader. During our time together this topic of insecurity, once again, came up.

Their role involves collecting information from, and presenting the outcomes to other managers who are mostly more experienced, educated or senior in management.

Also, within their team are reports who are more knowledgeable and educated, in certain disciplines, than themselves. At times team members would ask questions they could not answer, and they told the team/individual so.

This leader felt vulnerable.

Vulnerability of spirit is the essence of humility, which has been recognised as an essential trait in great leaders who, with an awareness of their insecurity, can freely admit that it’s not all about them or need to have all the answers.

This leader felt a sense of nervousness and inferiority, and questioned their own ability to lead and direct these two groups and individuals. Though they loved what they were doing, this leader wondered if they really should be in those roles.

When this leader understood that great leaders surround themselves with better people than themselves, and that they freely admit that they don’t have all the answers, this leader felt confident that they were doing everything right as a leader.

This leader now knows that they are not going to “mess it up” - how to hit the pause button, to step back and look (self-awareness), listen (to that internal critic), and find a better way to deal with an inferiority (use it as a motivator).

‘… you should receive praise with dignity. Refusing to accept legitimate praise is not a sign of humility; it is a sign of insecurity.’ Peter Wagner

Rather than being destructive, used correctly insecurities can help leaders tap into their full potential, establish collaborative relationships and empower others.

Great (humble) leaders are aware of their own power of leadership and are self-aware - they can freely admit that it’s not all about them, and have the courage to admit or reveal their own errors and insecurity to their peers, colleagues and employees.

Timidity, weakness, and inconsistency are not, nor have ever been, a part of a (humble) leaders character. Our ability to recognise our own feelings of insecurity, fear and doubt, to identify them and to be able to use them is the distinguishing marks of a great leader.

http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/leadership-management/366185/managers-use-that-youre-a-fraud-voice-in-your-head-to-become-a-better-leader/ Butch Ward. Managers, use that ‘You’re a Fraud’ voice in your head to become a better leader.



Debra. A. Benton., How to Think Like a CEO.

Daniel F. Pinnow., Leadership-What Really Matters: A Handbook of Systemic Leadership.

Geoffrey Garrot., Ethics in Business: A deeper approach.

Peter Wagner., Humility.


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