Some time back I was talking with a fellow project manager about a difficult issue he was having with his new boss. The thumbnail summary of the discussion was that the project manager was feeling overly scrutinized and micro-managed. Now I knew the project manager to be a capable professional who could confidently handle the work assigned to him. Yet his boss insisted on managing every detailed aspect of his work. More so, his boss was very critical of the work being done even though it was performed to professionally acceptable standard. The situation became unbearable for the project manager; he ultimately left the organization.
As I thought about this situation, I noticed an interesting parallel to other leadership situations I have seen and been part of. Both the project manager and his boss had similar backgrounds and similar years of experience. Although the boss had been a manager for years, he tended to surround himself with younger, more inexperienced managers. Having a more senior and experienced project manager reporting to him was clearly something that took him out of his comfort zone. Rather than embracing the experience, the boss felt threatened by the project manager and worked to "keep him in his place".
As I added things up in my mind about the situation one thing came clear; the boss' own insecurity was a key problem driver and was hampering the group's potential.
This situation caused me to start thinking more about the attributes of secure and insecure leaders. After noodling through I settled on ten key differences between an insecure and a secure leader. Give these a look and see if any resonate with you:
- Insecure leaders selectively divulge and withhold information. Secure leaders freely share information.
- Insecure leaders teach employees what they need to know. Secure leaders nurture employees to help them figure out what they need to know.
- Insecure leaders discourage risk taking. Secure leaders encourage calculated risk taking.
- Insecure leaders give instructions and expect them to be followed. Secure leaders give guidance and expect results.
- Insecure leaders demand respect. Secure leaders earn respect.
- Insecure leaders may acknowledge great performance but ensure they also get credit. Secure leaders spotlight great performance and don't worry about getting credit.
- Insecure leaders hire and promote others who think like they do. Secure leaders hire and promote others who think differently than they do.
- Insecure leaders deflect failure. Secure leaders accept responsibility for failure.
- Insecure leaders promote those they can control. Secure leaders promote those they don't have to control.
- Insecure leaders grow good doers. Secure leaders grow great leaders.
The one nugget here is this: honestly think through whether or not you are an insecure leader or a secure leader. If you fall on the insecure end of the spectrum, do some deep soul-searching as to what is causing you to feel insecure about your leadership abilities. Find a trusted mentor or colleague to help you dig into things and to shore up the areas which you need to address. Recognition and acknowledgement of your improvement areas is the most important step to growth. Don't kid yourself into thinking you're something that you're not.
Want to know how to succeed under an insecure leader? See part 2: How to Succeed Under and Insecure Leader.