We had been considering a long-term working relationship, but that all changed in the blink of an eye. It seemed to come out of nowhere. He shouted at me in anger, his face red with emotion. “Just remember one thing, I am in charge around here, not you.” I was shocked, dismayed, couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
A few weeks prior to that he shared with me that he would never hire anyone who was more gifted than he was. He didn’t want competition or comparisons to be made. I should have connected the dots and seen it coming, but I wanted to believe the best about this leader.
Who he believed me to be had posed a threat to him and brought out his deep insecurities. He reminded me of the boss who sent out a letter to his employees that read, “Search throughout the organization and find a person who is gifted, charming, has great people skills, and possesses a great work ethic; the kind of person who could someday take my place. And when you find him, fire him!”
For years, my mind has been toying with a short list of essential leadership qualities. Being secure in and at peace with who you are in Christ is at the top. To my way of thinking, personal security is the chief of character qualities. General Schwarzkopf (from Gulf War fame) said that,“99% of leadership failures in the 20th Century were failures of character.” With that in mind, I’m inclined to think that insecurity is the birth mother of other character failures.
When a leader has deep insecurity, there is a tendency to use a leadership role to gain a sense of security and the motivation to manipulate and abuse those being led. Harshness and insensitivity in one’s personal relationships and the inability to be flexible, gracious and tolerant often flow out of insecurity.
When you’ve bought into a philosophy of competing, achieving at any price, winning in every situation, never admitting weakness, having to always be right, clawing your way up the ladder of success, worshiping at the altar of promotion, serving as a galley slave on the ship of popularity, you can find yourself constantly looking over your shoulder protecting your reputation while trying to maintain the appearance of success and infallibility.
John Wooden advised: “Pay more attention to your character than to your reputation, for your character is what you really are, whereas your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
I recall working with another leader who always had to be right and have the last word. Anyone who disagreed or had a better idea than his was suspect and labeled as hostile or “not on board.” His insecurities stifled creativity, made empowerment almost impossible and generated few fresh ideas (other than his).
Outwardly, it looked like pride but insecurity was at the core. Insecurity in a leader’s life will cause him/her to loose objectivity. The leader himself will become the issue most of the time; looking good and being right at any price.
1. Is your security increasingly rooted in Jesus Christ, or are you insecure and abusing your leadership role? Here are a few signs for you to be aware of.
2. Is protecting your position and keeping yourself in a favorable light of higher value than the growth of the group or organization you lead?
3. Which do you jump on faster, a perceived personal offense or an organizational problem or issue?
4. How often are you tempted or swayed to make decisions that protect your status or reputation instead of doing what’s right and best for those you lead?
5. Do you gravitate toward and select team members who follow you easily and avoid those who will firmly challenge you and force you to grow in your leadership?
6. Do you often find yourself getting angry when someone disagrees or calls into question your opinion or a course of action you have suggested?
I believe that insecure leaders are dangerous leaders who hinder more than they help. How many church fights and splits are due to deeply rooted insecurity in key leaders? How many organizations quit growing or fall apart due to insecure leaders at the helm who can’t accept new ideas or new ways of doing things?
It’s sad to say, but many of the leaders I have worked with during my 47 years of ministry have been deeply insecure and have caused much pain in the lives of those they led.
Some have repented and asked for forgiveness, but others are still living in darkness and denial. I have battled with insecurity in my own life for years. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking bad, fear of making the wrong decision and the fear of having people dislike me has led me to do some really stupid things as a leader.
I believe that fear, pride and self-centeredness are symptoms of insecurity. Sometimes the bold, assertive and confident leader can be the most insecure of all.
Some Practical suggestions to help deal with insecurity:
- Pray daily that the Lord will enable you to have your security in Him and not in your success, ideas, or popularity
- Confess actions and attitudes based on insecurity as the sin it really is, asking for forgiveness and a Christ-centered perspective
- Have at least one person with whom you work who will watch out for any of the above-mentioned signs of insecurity and bring it to your attention. Your view of yourself can easily be distorted
- Do a study on the life of King Saul to see an insecure leader in action and learn from his mistakes
Select one to three passages of scripture that help you focus on the glory of God and not self promotion (one of my favorites is Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory…” (NIV)
“He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth.” John 7:18 (NIV)
Whose honor are you really working for?