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What is Insecurity?

Insecurity is an overall sense of uncertainty or anxiety about your worth, abilities, skills, and even value as a person.

It is often marked by things like an overriding feeling of inadequacy. A lack of self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. People feeling like they are unable or ill-equipped to cope with stressors and anxious about their interactions and relationships with others. I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing evidence of rising levels of insecurity in people all around me. More of my co-workers, teammates, family members, and friends are dealing with the effects of insecurity. There can be a number of reasons.

Insecurity can be the result of some trauma or crisis from the past. Something happened in childhood that a person has never really gotten over. Some rejection back there, or failure, or dysfunction from a past event or a past relationship that still echoes and reverberates into the present day.

But even leaders who didn’t come through a traumatic childhood can deal with insecurity. I think because of your unique role as a leader, having to make decisions that affect people, having to set a course for the future that not everyone may agree with, or having to keep a company going so that workers can continue to get a paycheck, the stakes are high for leaders. Insecurity is a normal emotion that comes about when we’re exposed to something new or something that seems beyond us.

How does insecurity show up in the life of leaders?

Insecurity can easily creep into a person’s leadership. I think about where we are after a global pandemic that none of us were prepared for. It seems to have upended reality in ways that we are still coming to understand. How do people work or not work, remote vs in-person meetings and services, is there a normal that we’re going back to or is that long gone?

Every leader I know felt like they were in over their head – and many may still be dealing with the insecurity that was born out of this season. Everything felt destabilizing and some haven’t recovered. So, insecurity has run rampant in leaders. And especially in Christian circles I think insecurity can act as the evil twin of humility. Sometimes they disguise as each other.

I’ve had recent conversations asking someone to consider stepping into a new role. It happens every time with new elders in my church / I would expect the first response to be humility – I’m honored, I don’t feel worthy, I’m humbled to be asked / but that humility can disguise the insecurity – if the person is thinking – I’m uncertain, or inadequate, or unable. Once you are in a new role that’s intimidating, if you’re not careful, you’ll start faking it. And this vicious cycle starts playing like a recording in your head. You feel like an imposter and if people only knew…  Insecurity starts to grow like a cancer and eventually will undermine every bold decision you try to make.

And I’ve worked with insecure leaders before – and it’s not great. They tend to create drama, they can even unintentionally cause pain in the lives of those they lead. Because that insecurity eventually start coming out in all kinds of ways. Leaders have to guard against insecurity.

8 Ugly Outcomes of Insecure Leadership

1. Defensiveness

When ideas or decisions are challenged in any way they become instantly defensive. They begin to put down the person who challenged them. Thinking of all the reasons that person isn’t qualified to push back. Insecure leaders interpret disagreement as disloyalty. They stop seeing people as people with something to contribute and they start seeing them as either for me or against me.

2. Control freak tendencies

Because they are insecure, they have to be involved in every conversation. Any conversations or decisions that are made without their consent or approval are viewed as insubordination. And even if an idea is a good one, it gets shot down because it didn’t go through the proper channels.

3. Unhealthy comparisons

When a leader is insecure they start sizing up everyone else, and tearing them down to try to make the other person smaller so they can feel bigger. Instead of celebrating the victories of colleagues and co-workers – insecure leaders always find something to critique. Instead of learning from other similar churches or organizations or companies who are succeeding, they explain away their successes and are gleeful at setbacks.

4. Blame-shifting

When mistakes are made insecure leaders refuse to own their responsibility. They are concerned more with coming out clean and protecting their own reputation instead of improving the culture of the organization as a whole.

5. Paralysis of analysis

Making a hard decision means committing to something and being on the hook for the results. They need to seek advice from one more consultant or have one more meeting or gather a new round of data all in an effort to stall the decision because of their own insecurity.

6. Mishandling conflicts

Insecure leaders either avoid conflict altogether through passive aggressive means like resorting to sarcasm or gossip, or they look at every situation as a potential conflict. They tend to be either too soft in times of disagreement or harsh. By contrast, secure leaders handle conflict with both truth and grace working together.

7. Craving the spotlight

The problems are someone else’s fault but the successes are all mine. Insecure leaders are careful not to give others the spotlight. They’ll let people do work behind the scenes but when it comes to presenting or preaching or prognosticating – it all needs to flow through them. They use words like “I” and “My” more than “We” or “Our”. It’s my team that did this, it was my idea that got us to where we are, I have been the catalyst for change in this organization.

8. Limiting and belittling others

Threatened by strong or up-and-coming leaders – Always leery or suspicious of other leaders – constantly coming up with things to critique about others as a reason that they shouldn’t advance or have additional responsibilities. They don’t attract the best people, but those who are not as good as they are who can be controlled mentally or emotionally

Sources of Insecurity and God’s Response

So we all know that insecurity can be ugly. But what are some sources of insecurity and how does God provide some solutions.

To help us explore the sources of insecurity, there’s an amazing section of the Old Testament where Moses, one of the great leaders of all time, who led the Israelites out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt, faced down some of his insecurities. And it’s a really great little study in Exodus 3 and 4 where there’s a kind of back and forth between Moses and God. Moses expressing his insecurities and God answering him. And I think we can see clearly some of the sources of where insecurity comes from. So the first source of insecurity is

Self-Doubt.  Moses says “who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” Who am I? Some of you with imposter syndrome resonate with this. Who am I? If people really knew me they would never… It happens to me almost every time I stand up to preach even after 27 years – who the heck am I? And God’s response and I quote, he said, “I will be with you.” This is God’s most oft repeated promise in the bible. Not I will forgive you, not I will love you, or I will save you. It is I will be with you. It emboldens us, it straightens our spine to know that God is with us. I’ve heard it said this way, security comes with proximity. The closer you get to God the more secure you will be in your own skin.

Lack of knowledge. After God says I will be with you. Moses comes right back with, what will I say to them? If the people start asking questions – I’m not going to know what to say. I haven’t been trained, I haven’t been prepared, I’m not qualified. Some of you feel that. God’s response was “I’ll fill in the blanks” he basically tells Moses when the people start asking about who sent you and what your qualifications are, tell them I AM sent you. This is the first time God has ever revealed his name. He’s saying – I’ll give you what you need – I’ll provide the answers. you don’t need to be a control freak – because I’m in control. Moses comes right back with another source of insecurity.

Fear of failure. He says but they won’t believe me. what if the results aren’t there? What if I fail? What if I put myself out there and no one follows? God’s response? Use what you have and let me worry about the results. God says, what’s that in your hand. Moses says a staff. God says throw it down. He does and it turns into a snake. God says pick it up and it turns back into a staff. What’s happening here? God demonstrated His power- He’s saying – I’ll do stuff that you could never do anyway – just use what’s in your hand. This takes all the pressure off. We just need to be faithful with our gifts – our stuff – our ordinary – God will do extraordinary. We like results – but we have to remember that God has enough to accomplish through us what He pleases.

Lack of skills. Moses says I’m not eloquent. I’m not a speaker. I’m not good in front of people. I get stage fright. You got the wrong guy God. This is my favorite come back from God – God just says, who made your mouth? He’s telling Moses I’ll enable you. This is a very powerful leadership principle. God’s calling is God’s enabling. God’s will is God’s bill. If he gives you an assignment, he won’t leave you hanging.

Comparison. Finally Moses gets frustrated with all the comebacks and just say- please send someone else. He looks around and he says – there’s a bunch of people who could do this better than me. God responds, I’ll bring you good people, but you have to use them. He says I’ll send your brother Aaron. He’s coming to meet you – he’ll encourage you – And God says I’ll teach you both what to do.

Is there anywhere in your leadership where you’re feeling insecure? Maybe from self-doubt, or lack of knowledge or fear of failure, how about lack of skills or comparing yourself with all the people you assume could do it better than you. That’s not humility – that’s insecurity. Step into your calling. Not only does God have the answer for every one of those insecurities – he is the answer. Lead well.

How to Become a More Secure and Confident Leader

Got just 1 hour every month to prioritize growing as a leader? Join us at Grace Leadership Institute in Erie, Pennsylvania, every month for Lead Up!

During Lead Up, we’ll watch a quick video replay of favorite Global Leadership Summit topics from the past 5 years and have meaningful discussions, all while networking with other leaders in our region. It’s a great way to prioritize becoming a more secure and confident leader every month. Click here to view upcoming Lead Up sessions!