At some point, we have all followed an insecure leader. We have also been the insecure leader being followed.
Insecurity is a heart/identity issue that is uniquely manifested in how we lead others. Every leader struggles with it in some way due to both the demanding nature of leadership and the depraved nature of our own hearts. Leadership drags out our insecurities because leadership is a difficult and public enterprise. As a result, we feel the pressure to have all the answers, to make great decisions, and to generally make those that follow us feel secure.
At its core, insecurity is a sinful response to the reality that the only leader who actually has it all together is Jesus. So, what does insecurity look like in the life of a leader? There are many possible manifestations, but for the sake of brevity, I will share a couple of tell-tale signs.
Insecure leaders are typically:
Slow to Compliment or Encourage Others
Insecure leaders withhold encouragement as a tool to keep other leaders and followers "humble," which subconsciously neutralizes the threat of strong leaders emerging and challenging them. The line of thinking goes: "If they are not affirmed, then they will continue performing to earn my praise." This heart issue reveals itself in different ways as well. This same core issue, in more serious expressions, may look like hazing behavior with followers, i.e. regularly insulting subordinates in front of fellow leaders or peers, or, in extreme cases where repentance is not pursued, insecurity can lead to serious emotional abuse to the followers. Over long periods of time, the leader's influence slowly erodes as high integrity followers and leaders alike discern the underlying insecurity issue and simply move on to work under more Gospel-centered expressions of leadership.
Quick to Deflect Blame and Constructive Criticism
This is a more open and obvious expression of insecurity in leadership. I do not know a leader who personally has not struggled with this issue at times.
Leaders who regularly justify themselves are forgetting that God has already done that for us in Jesus.
"…and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority." – Colossians 2:10
If your response to feedback and correction is, "Oh yeah, I know," you are probably being defensive. Of course, the core issue in leadership insecurity is pride. You see, deep down we know we do not have all the answers. We know that our leadership is flawed and sin-tainted and motivated, often, by all the wrong things. So, what's the issue? We do not wish to be reminded of those things. So we deflect blame, as opposed to owning responsibility and we reject constructive criticism instead of humbly receiving the feedback and prayerfully discerning how to grow from that interaction. How well someone listens and how little they combatively defend themselves are usually direct reflections of that leader's level of insecurity.
What do insecure leaders like us need? The gospel. The gospel that openly exposes know-it-alls as know-nothings. The gospel that disarms our defensiveness by confronting us with our sinfulness.
Yes, leaders are mess-ups and losers, but the Gospel says we do not have to run from that reality.
And, even if the constructive criticism turns into toxic criticism, we do not have to run from that either, because even the worst criticism with the darkest motives can teach us something about ourselves and Jesus.
Spurgeon summed it up well: "If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him. For you are worse than he believes you to be."
So, leaders, let us confess our insecurities and various inadequacies. The Gospel frees us to do so. And then, let's rest in Jesus and what He, as the Leader of All Things, has won for us and secured us with in His death and resurrection.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at Chad's blog, Develop to Deploy.