Leaders are the ones who pave the way for others. They provide vision , insight, and solutions to problems. They are often looked up to, admired, and even mimicked. Why then, do some leaders battle the feeling of insecurity? While it may not be a struggle for all, I believe that many leaders have faced insecurity at some point in their lives. This can be especially true when a leader is young or is just starting out in a leadership role. Here are five common roots of insecurity in leaders.
Expectations can be set by a myriad of people – the leader himself, his boss, his peers, or the people he is expected to lead. Expectations can also be qualified as real or perceived. Real expectations are ones that are clearly set forth and are defined by measurable standards. Perceived expectations are ones that the leader assumes he is responsible for but has no clear understanding of what success looks like.
When a leader does not fulfill expectations, he feels he has failed. Failure can easily produce insecurity. Leaders want to succeed – they feel that they should succeed. When they sense they have failed in some way, they feel that this is contrary to what a leader does and who a leader is. They feel that they are incompetent, and insecurity can begin to set in.
We all have ideas of what leading should be like. The truth is that leadership is seldom what we originally thought it would be. Expectations are not always met – failure happens. Move on from it. Failure defines an event not a person. Some expectations are completely unrealistic, unattainable, and unfair to the leader to attempt. Ignore these and focus on what can be achieved.
Every leader wants to achieve a solid level of credibility. We often associate credibility with experience. For those just starting out in the world of leadership, experience is not on their side. This can easily produce insecurity for the leader who wants to be a seasoned veteran but feels stuck in the amateur phase. They feel that no one will want to listen to them because they have little to offer.
A lack of experience shouldn’t be looked at as a fault but as a simple fact of life. Time will allow for experience to be produced. Every leader has been at this stage at some point. If you are just beginning to lead, proactively look for opportunities to make good decisions and demonstrate consistency in order to accelerate your level of experience. Learn from the experience of long-standing leaders. Ask questions. Read and learn. Determine to stay leading for the long haul.
No matter where a leader is at in his tenure, conflict of some form is inevitable. When anyone is trying to rally people to attain a certain goal, someone else is going to oppose that cause. This can be extremely frustrating for the leader. We all know that not everyone is going agree with us and that there will be conflict, but that does not negate the fact that conflict is difficult and can rattle a leader’s sense of security.
What is even harder for a leader is when someone who is supposed to be on his side directly opposes him in a significant matter. A leader expects and even prepares for conflict from outside of his organization. But inside an organization, leaders can be surprised by some of the sources of conflict. Disagreements are bound to happen any time people are involved in anything, but large-scale conflict, direct opposition, and defiance against the mission – this can produce insecurity in a leader. Teams are supposed to work together and the members are supposed to look out for each other. When conflict arises, the leader may question his ability to lead, his mission, his team, and his calling.
A leader must understand that conflict will happen and embrace it as an opportunity to learn and grow through hardships. During conflict, the leader must see beyond the immediate problem and prioritize his focus on the main mission.
Lack of Identity
Many more leaders than we might think struggle with identity crisis. Some leaders battle insecurity because of their misperceived identity based on their background. For example, if an individual had very critical parents who always put him down and never allowed him to grow through trying new ideas, this could make him insecure as a leader because his identity is comprised of him being a failure who cannot be innovative.
But the identity crisis that may be even more pervasive in leaders is one that is self-inflicted.
One reason why many leaders struggle with their own identity is that they have never figured out who they really are as an individual. Many leaders have not taken the time recognize their skills, abilities, and deficiencies. They have not embraced their strengths and admitted their weaknesses. A leader can perceive what he ought to be as a leader and if he does not fit that mold, he will not feel that he is who he is supposed to be.
Another reason why many leaders struggle with their own identity is they have misplaced their identity in things that are not solid such as relationships, skills, projects, positions, and titles. The danger with leaders excelling in particular areas of life is that there is a tendency for them to equate what they do well with who they are.
You cannot effectively lead other people if you are battling with your own identity. You must know who you are as a person and as a leader in order to effectively lead other people.
Identity cannot be found in things that are subject to change because when change happens, identity is skewed. True identity is to be found in a relationship with the unchanging, faithful person of Jesus Christ. Identity is to be found in being who God created a person to be.
Comparison has been called the thief of happiness and contentment. When we look around at what other people have we begin to value what we have based on the possessions of others. Someone may have a good car, but their neighbor may have a better car, so they begin to think that their “good” car is not so good any longer. They can become jealous of what their neighbor has and they focus not on the positive of what they have but on the negative of what they do not have.
This same process can happen in leadership. Insecurity thrives in an environment of comparison. There is certainly nothing wrong with looking at other leaders to learn and grow from them. But there is a major problem when a leader is constantly comparing what he does with what other people do. Comparison that leads to insecurity can take on one of two major forms.
First, comparison may cause a leader to look around at others who are doing a better job than he is doing. The leader becomes frustrated by the fact that he wants to be better and do more – he wants to be like another leader. He becomes jealous of the abilities that someone else has. He becomes envious of another person’s achievements. Before long he is defeated and is consumed with running all of his leadership efforts through the filter of being better than someone else. All the while, the people he is leading are suffering because he is not focused on doing what is best for them.
Secondly, comparison may take the form of a leader looking down on other people. When a leader compares himself to another leader and finds that in some areas he is better than someone else, he can quickly become arrogant. In this case, the leader is not defeated by jealousy but by pride. This line of thinking artificially elevates the prideful leader to an unrealistic position in his mind. Because he has misplaced his security in his success, this leader can belittle other people by treating them as insignificant in comparison with him.
No leader has all the answers, and no one certainly always does everything perfectly. Every leader can learn from others. Stay humble and keep your focus on your goal, not someone else’s.
What do you think? Do you battle insecurity as a leader? What are some other reasons leaders are insecure?