Even the best leaders will stumble if they don’t feel confident. It is normal to feel insecure sometimes. But it’s not OK to let your insecurity make you behave badly.
Watch out for these signs of an insecure leader. Just because you feel insecure sometimes, does not mean you need to act like an insecure leader.
1. An Insecure Leader Won’t Take Advice
Teams work better when they feel as if they can speak up freely. There is a better chance of improving your team’s performance when you aren’t the only person coming up with good ideas.
An insecure leader will stop taking input from their team, because they feel as if this lets people challenge their authority.
This quickly turns into, it’s “my way or the highway”.
Learn More: For more about encouraging open communication, read this post: 5 Powerful Ways to Create Open Communication in Your Team.
2. An Insecure Leader Stops Explaining Their Decisions
Confident leaders don’t mind explaining the reasons behind their decisions. This is because they are not scared of being wrong.
An insecure leader will stop explaining decisions because it gives people a chance to criticise them. They think being less open will reduce the chance of anyone criticising them.
3. An Insecure Leader Stops Asking For Help
When a leader feels insecure, they see asking for help as a sign of weakness. They feel as if they should know it all.
A reader told me a story recently. She had just started a new management position and hadn’t been trained in leadership before. She signed up for a new manager’s course at her workplace.
When she did, the course organiser said it was a great move. “So many other managers here could use this course, but they never sign up for it.”
Why don’t the other managers sign up? Because they think they should “know it already”.
Learn More: Read more here about dropping your leadership ego: Is your ego stopping you from being a good leader?
4. An Insecure Leader Doesn’t Like Feedback
Insecure leaders don’t like feedback, they fear it. If they were to openly ask for feedback, they feel as if they are opening themselves up to criticism.
Unfortunately, this attitude only reinforces itself and before long, insecure leaders can’t improve their skills.
Insecure leaders also stop giving feedback. They feel that if they provide bad feedback to somebody, that person could turn around and give it right back.
Instead, what we normally see is complete silence, where no feedback is given in either direction.
5. Unconfident Leaders Tell People How to Do Their Job
Directive leadership is all about commanding your team. It has its place, for certain. However, some insecure leaders use this style all the time because it’s harder for people to disagree. It reduces the chance that someone will feel they can “talk back” to the leader.
“Just do what I say” is code for “I’m scared that I’m wrong and I don’t want anyone to tell me that.”
Learn More: Learn more about directive leadership in this post: 4 Situations When Directive Leadership Is Your Friend.
6. An Insecure Leader Avoids Confrontation
Some insecure leaders will avoid addressing issues that may result in conflict. This is because if they can avoid a fight entirely, they can avoid being wrong.
This results in a team where long standing problems never go away.
The root of this problem is that the insecure leader feels that if a confrontation were to occur, they would lose.
Then they would lose the respect of their team.
7. An Unconfident Leader Won’t Ask Questions, Even When They Don’t Understand
One of the traditional problems of leadership is that leaders should “know it all”. They are meant to know more than their team, which is why they have more responsibility.
Some insecure leaders don’t like to ask questions because it shows others that they may not know something.
Unfortunately, often it is painfully obvious when a leader does not know what he is talking about. In reality, there is nothing wrong with asking questions to improve your understanding.
8. Insecure Leaders Micromanage People
Insecure leaders love control. Why?
Because when they control situations, they can reduce the chance that they will be exposed. Micromanagement is one way to keep control by directing your team as to how they should do things.
Before long, the insecure leader has convinced her team that their opinions don’t matter. They will start to avoid thinking for themselves.
When this happens, the likelihood that a team member will challenge her is slim. This makes the insecure leader feel safe.
Learn More: Read more about micromanagement (and how to avoid it) here: Are you a micromanaging boss? Here’s 3 ways to stop it.
9. An Unconfident Leader Takes Credit For the Team’s Achievements
Insecure leaders like to take credit for the work of their team. Not because it makes them feel good, but because it makes them seem important. When an insecure leader takes credit, they appear more valuable and more necessary.
Taking the credit is not about glory for an insecure leader, it is a way to reduce the risk of being “found out”.
10. An Insecure Leader Gets Angry When Their Team Members Quit
When a team member quits, it can be stressful for an insecure leader.
Was it my fault? Did I do something wrong? Am I a bad leader?
Instead of processing these feelings positively, an insecure leader will feel angry.
She is so ungrateful. He has no loyalty. They don’t know how good they’ve got it.
This helps the insecure leader focus on the faults of others, rather than analysing their own feelings. This way, they feel safe. It’s not my fault. It is their fault.
Pay attention to this list. Sometimes you’ll find yourself resorting to insecure behaviour without even knowing it. Just because you feel insecure, does not mean that you need to act that way.
You are in control of your actions, even if you don’t feel confident all the time.
Do You Doubt Yourself and Your Ability to Lead Your Team? Try the Leadership Confidence Online Course.
Feel more comfortable and self-assured in your leadership role – simply click here to learn more and enrol today.
Have you seen any other signs of an insecure leader? Tell me your stories in the comments below!
This was a really great article.
I have recently witnessed these actions by an individual. These insecure leaders are very dangerous for a moment in time – but life has a way of balancing these things out eventually …..
Yes – we can only hope that things balance out in the end!
Thanks for your comment Elaine.
How to overcome the feeling of insecurity?
Thanks for the comment – feeling insecure is natural from time to time. Getting rid of insecurity is all about confidence.
To learn more about how to build your leadership confidence, I’d recommend going here and taking a look at the free resources: https://www.thoughtfulleader.com/category/confidence/
My manager is extremely insecure, and he has good reason to be. He is supervising people who are smarter than him and better than him at everything that falls within the scope of work we are performing. He compensates for his lack of legitimate leadership capabilities by exercising arbitrary authority over us regularly to remind us that he is in charge. What can unlucky subordinates do to improve their situation when they find themselves under the thumb of a hopelessly incompetent leader?
This is a hard situation, because it seems like your boss is constantly feeling under threat, so he exercises greater control. The more insecure he feels, the more likely he is to clamp down on the team and annoy everybody.
I find that many teams in this situation keep trying to show the manager that they are a bad leader – to prove a point to them.
The only problem with this is that if your boss is a bad leader, they probably don’t have the self-awareness to step back and try to improve. They are more likely to resort to their instinctive response of showing everyone they are “the boss” and you end up in a constant adversarial battle where the team members never win, because they don’t have the authority to make change.
The most sure-fire fix for this is to leave and find a different place to work, being careful during your interviews to try to find out what kind of person your new manager is so you can work for a good boss.
If that’s not what you want then I’d try something different. In your comment you mention that “he has good reason to be insecure” and that other people “are smarter than him”. Based on this, I would guess that your team is consistently giving off signals that make him feel insecure – which start the adversarial cycle.
While it can feel good to try to show your boss that they are no good, you won’t win. So I would try out a more supportive attitude, where you “back off” and stop the power struggle. This might mean you support some of his ideas, be more compliant and push back on him a bit less, where you can. In other words, pick your battles and let some of the smaller things go.
I am not saying that you are in the wrong – I’m saying that you won’t win the power struggle. So trying to back off a bit may just help your manager relax, and you might find that he reduces his insecure behaviours over time, because he doesn’t feel so threatened and like he needs to control you so much.
Treat it like an experiment. Try different approaches and see how his insecurity grows or reduces. Find out what his triggers are and try to avoid them. If he is constantly insecure, you’re in for a tough time, so put on your scientist hat and see if you can help him reduce his insecurity for the good of the team.