In my opinion, there is no greater challenge than trying to work effectively with an insecure leader. Nothing you do will ever be right enough and you can never be loyal enough to please a manager who isn’t secure in their own skin.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. I worked with a manager once who was personally very insecure. If she saw one of her people talking to her boss, she assumed that they were in there complaining about her. Rather than addressing this directly, she would give them the cold shoulder for several days to punish them. She would also tell her team stories about other departments and actively cultivated a climate of mistrust between her department and the rest of the organization. That way she could control what information her team received as they didn’t have relationships outside of the people in the department. And when she observed two people on her team developing a close working relationship, she would create issues to break their trust, such as telling them lies about each other.
Unhealthy doesn’t even begin to describe the environment this manager created. Here are some other signs a manager may be insecure. They:
- Are unable to take responsibility for their mistakes
- Have difficulty making decisions
- Have an overwhelming need for control
- Express feelings that others are out to “get them”, embarrass them or get them fired
- Try to manipulate others and situations
- Launch into personal attacks rather than addressing issues directly
- Isolate their team to the point of sabotaging team members’ relationships with other managers and departments
- Have a highly inaccurate perception of their own performance and reputation
- Worry every day that today will be the day someone figures out they don’t know what they are doing
- Attempt to “buy” loyalty rather than earn it
It is natural for people to experience some insecurity at times in their work, but sustained and persistent insecurity is a very real problem that must be addressed immediately. If left unchecked, the resulting damage to your credibility as a leader and to the effectiveness of your team is tremendous. If you find that the bullet points above describe your behavior or how you feel, I encourage you to seek professional assistance in working through your issues as they most likely have their root outside of the workplace.
And if you find yourself working for someone who fits this description, you really have a big challenge at hand. My best advice is to understand that the problem isn’t with you; it’s with them, and you are unlikely to be able to help them solve it on your own. Do not sink to their level of game playing or allow yourself to publically criticize them, it will only fan the flames of their insecurity. Reach out professionally to confidential resources such as Human Resources or a mentor for advice and support. Remain true to yourself and your values and you will be better able to ride through the drama that insecure managers create in an effort to distract attention from themselves and their performance.
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