How insecure leaders damage their people!

Do you know that insecure leadership is a huge threat to our work places, churches and organizations? Studies show that insecure leaders reduce job satisfaction and increase stress at workplace.

Insecurity is not just a lack of confidence but it is a deeper issue of a person’s identity and self-worth. Insecure leaders exhibit behaviours of either being overly intrusive or cold and distant. Instead of building the people they are leading, they end up damaging them. King Saul in the Old Testament and King Herod in the New Testament are classic examples of such insecure leaders who brought a great misery on their people. Drawing from these two examples, this article describes how the deep rooted insecurity of leaders unfolds itself in a variety of destructive behaviours.

Insecure leaders stamp out the competency of their people
Insecure leaders feel threatened by those who are more competent than them. Instead of appreciating, they resent the accomplishments of their people. Insecure leaders harbour jealousy against those who receive higher recognition than they themselves do. As a response, they create situations to show these more competent people in a negative light, or to prove them less capable.
Insecure leaders can help grow others only when they know that the credit and control remains with them. They find it very hard to appreciate others and to celebrate their success. Insecure leaders sometimes feel so threatened by the high performers that they don’t even hesitate to get rid of them. When David received more praise, King Saul grew so jealous that wanted to get rid of him. Thus insecure leaders gradually demoralize the competent people or make them quit the organizations.

Insecure leaders suppress the dissent from their people
Insecure leaders are uncomfortable with dissent or difference of opinion. King Herod is known for his paranoia about keeping power and his ruthless suppression of dissent. Insecure leaders prefer to surround themselves with people who do not challenge them. They cannot take ‘No’ for an answer. Insecure leaders expect others to “obey” them, rather than “agree with” with them in what has to be done. What the leader says becomes more important than what should be done in a situation.
Insecure leaders tend to view legitimate questions as personal attacks. Research affirms that the leaders who feel insecure “feel that employee suggestions are a personal and negative commentary on their ability to do their job”. Insecure leaders create Churches and organizations that are filled with blind followers rather than independent thinkers. As Andy Stanley put it, “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

Insecure leaders find it difficult to trust their people
Insecure leaders find it extremely difficult to trust others. They tend to suspect others to scheme against them. King Herod executed his wives and children, suspecting they were plotting against him. Insecure leaders often misinterpret the motives of others. They often view the actions of others with a potential to turn against them and end up being either distant or defensive.
Insecure leaders listen to gossip and create an unhealthy environment of suspicion and lack of trust. Studies prove that “insecurity is a fertile ground for the growth of unsubstantiated stories both about individuals and management intentions,” in an organization. Insecure leaders are worried about the strength and unity among the people which they think can work against them. They do not to create synergy and interdependence among the people. This ruins the relationships in the teams and hampers the effectiveness of the organizations.

Insecure leaders undermine the freedom of their people
Insecure leaders are driven by a high degree of psychological and emotional need for control. They tend to show their power and communicate that they are the bosses. They like the centralization of power and create a culture of dependency. Their anxiety of losing control drives the insecure leaders to micro manage their people. During one of the battles King Saul ordered the people not eat anything until the victory was secured. He insisted on this, though it made the fighting men weak and weary. We can see that “by micro managing people and their circumstances, King Saul kept his men from fighting at their best and put them in greater danger.”
Insecure leaders would like to be included in every conversation and decision. Instead of focusing on important issues, they get overwhelmed by low priority activities. They tend to ignore the big picture and engage themselves in the minute details. They catch hold of details hoping to catch hold of people. This prevents people from owning their domain, or their roles. It robs them of the human desire to contribute, making them inferior and incapable.

Insecure leaders don’t create successors out of their people
Insecure leaders don’t train competent people to become second line leaders. They seldom have succession plans. They mistake the successors as competitors. Instead of empowering the successors they either supress them or get rid of them. King Saul, in spite of knowing that David is God’s anointed successor, desperately tried to kill him. Insecure leaders instead of being ‘king-makers’ end up being ‘king-killers’. As John Maxwell says, “Insecure leaders never develop people, they replace them.”
Insecure leaders consider themselves indispensable and dread the thought of someone replacing them. They cannot withstand the fact that their organization can and will continue without them. They don’t openly discuss about the growth and development of people. They hide the information that can empower others and tend to keep secrets with them. This results in leadership stagnation and affects business continuity in the organizations.

Insecure leaders don’t make decisions in favour of their people
Insecure leaders cannot think for their people because of their self-centred nature. King Saul’s life is characterised by a series of errors in his judgement resulting in the suffering and destruction of his people. In the words of John Maxwell, “Insecure leaders think everything is about them, and as a result, every action, every piece of information, every decision is put through their filter of self-centeredness.” Insecure leader take pleasure in creating difficult situations for their people, which helps them think they are in a better position.
Insecure leaders have a great difficulty to listen and understand people’s needs. Due to the lack of capacity to listen, they often fail to make best decisions for their people. They assume they know what is best for others and rarely seek or accept feedback. Insecure leaders don’t provide space for others to express their dissatisfaction about their decisions. This makes people in Churches and organizations suffer silently showing half-hearted commitment.

Insecure leaders fail to resolve the conflicts for their people
Insecure leaders mishandle conflicts. They are easily overcome by emotions and often lack sound judgement. They fail to deal with the issue on its face value, without personal biases and prejudices. They focus on trivial things rather than moving towards resolving the issue. Unlike secure leaders, they cannot confront the brutal facts.
King Saul’s life and actions were in constant conflict with his God, his family and his people. He was never able to resolve the conflicts either with men or with God. While secure leaders use conflict to strengthen their people, insecure leaders allow conflict to weaken their people. Insecure leaders often suffer from the withdrawal syndrome and avoid confronting the issues to resolve them. This makes people carry the pain of unresolved conflicts.
Insecurity of an individual is a destructive force. When a leader is insecure, this destruction extends to those who are under his care. As the number of insecure leaders increase in an organization or a Church, the whole culture becomes toxic and destructive. To prevent this, leaders should work on the root causes of their insecurity and intentionally find their security and self-worth in God and God alone. Resolving the insecurities of leaders in appropriate manner is critical to organizational health and performance.

Dr Prasad Talluri leads the Research & Strategy Management Team in World Vision India. Prior to joining World Vision India in 2006, he worked as a Lecturer in Zoology. He lives with his wife Chandrakantha and daughter Mahima in Chennai and is active in EU EGF ministries.

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