I still remember my first day in business school. Everyone else seemed to be smarter and more accomplished than I. And I remember feeling quite insecure and wondering whether I was an admissions mistake!
Getting the occasional bouts of insecurity is nothing unusual. At one point or the other, I am sure that all of us have felt insecure about someone or something.
A persistent pattern of insecurity can, however, become a big impediment if you want to be an effective leader. People generally don’t find it a great experience to work with or for insecure leaders.
My guess is that many of us think that we are very secure individuals. And if I were to ask you if you are insecure or what makes you insecure, you would likely feel quite uncomfortable or give me a nonplussed look.
Do think harder about this. Take a look at the questions below and see if you can identify with these:
- Do you have a high need for controlling things? Do you surround yourself with team members that you can control?
- Do you have difficulties trusting your peers? Do you frequently question the motives of your peers or team members? Are you a suspicious individual? Do you feel that other people are out to get you?
- Do you worry a lot about what others might be thinking or saying about you?
- Do you frequently feel like a victim? Do you think that you have a tougher lie of the ball than your peers?
- Do you hesitate to hire people who are smarter than you?
- Do you expect and demand complete loyalty from your team?
- Do you feel like you always need to have your way? Do you generally feel that you are right?
- Do you interrupt people frequently? Are you a poor listener?
- Do you not like people to disagree with you? Do you get defensive when people push back?
- Are you territorial? Do you feel uncomfortable working in matrix structures?
- Are you always trying to look good and in “sell mode”, frequently talking about how your accomplishments? Do you have a high need for personal recognition? Do you frequently seek external validation? Do you feel under-appreciated?
- Do you feign humility? Do you think that you are better than your peers?
- Do you spend a lot of time comparing yourself to others? Do you get bothered by others’ success?
- Do you spend a lot of time complaining about other people or other functions? Do you enjoy pinpointing others’ mistakes and saying “I told you so”?
- Do you get anxious or angry quickly? Do you frequently take out your frustrations on your team members?
If you can relate to many of these questions, then chances are that you are an insecure leader.
The challenge is that insecurity can be difficult to recognise in ourselves. And it is quite difficult to fix unless you are willing to accept it.
All of us have a certain degree of insecurity. The hard part is to know when these insecurities are pervasive enough to thwart your growth and make you less effective.
While there are no magic answers to address insecurity, you have to be honest with yourself and be self-aware. You need to reflect and introspect on your behaviour and style. You need to be truly willing to change. For instance, can you pinpoint your 2-3 blind spots and what you are doing to address them? If you can’t, then you have a problem!
Feedback from 360 degree surveys can also be quite useful. In particular, I have found that peer ratings and feedback from peers can be especially relevant in surfacing issues that could be a result of insecurities. Insecure behaviour tends to get amplified when interacting with peers.
Sometimes, having open conversations with a trusted confidant or mentor can help. You can identify things that make you insecure, understand why this is happening and also determine how you can change.
So, do take some time to reflect on what makes you insecure and what you can start doing to address it. And if there is anything that I can do to help you on your journey, please do reach out.