Project Management

How to Succeed Under an Insecure Leader

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In Part 1: Ten Differences Between a Secure and an Insecure Leader,  I contrasted ten key attributes that distinguish a secure leader from one who is insecure in his or her abilities.  Part 2 is dedicated to giving you eight nuggets to help you succeed under an insecure leader. 

For years I was an insecure leader.  My greatest fear in leading others was that I would be "found out" and that everyone would see me not as a strong, competent leader but as a bumbling fool.  Through the years I've learned that the quest for infallibility is impossible to reach and that making mistakes is part of the growth process.  I'm less insecure today because I am more comfortable saying "I don't know" without everyone in the room thinking I'm an incompetent twit.  Having said that, I am secure in knowing I will continue to screw up until my last breath.


For an insecure leader, it all comes down to trust.  Insecure leaders are by default distrustful of others and will only let those into their inner circle after trust has been earned.  You could be the best performer in the leader's organization but if he or she doesn't trust you then you're always going to be operating on the fringes with the leader and will likely have a stressful relationship.  Unfortunate, yes; but that's the fact Jack. You need to accept and embrace it.

So okay, you've accepted and embraced the fact you work with an insecure leader.  What next?  Here are eight specific things to consider in better securing a good working relationship with the leader:

Respect the leader's position - Regardless how smart or competent you feel your leader is, the first step to a healthy relationship with an insecure leader is respecting his or her position as leader.  To an insecure leader, disrespect for the position is no different than disrespect for the leader.

Don't overdraw in the feedback bank account - Insecure leaders need to hear that they are doing some things right.  When presenting feedback to the leader, start things off with something positive before raising constructive feedback.  The spoonful of sugar will truly help the medicine go down better for the leader.

Don't dump problems - If you have a difficult issue you need help with don't dump it on the leader's doorstep.  Clearly articulate the issue and present some alternatives to how you and the leader can resolve the problem together.  Dumping the problem can put insecure leaders on edge because they may now feel as if they are being tested.

Criticize in private - Publicly criticizing or embarrassing an insecure leader puts the leader in a "fight or flight" situation and can severely damage your relationship with the leader.  Save the negative feedback for a private session.

Don't suck up - A savvy leader will see sucking up as insincere.  In addition, other team members will resent you if you are viewed as a brown-noser in it for personal gain. 

Allow the leader to teach - Being insecure doesn't necessarily mean the leader is incompetent.  Find something you can learn from the leader and become a student of the leader's viewpoint.  Being less than open to learning something from the leader may suggest a problem with your attitude versus purely a problem with the leader.

Understand the leader's communication style - Some leaders truly are "open door" while others prefer scheduled appointments.  Some prefer verbal discussion while others like written emails.  Understand how the leader likes to communicate and stick to his or her style.  Also beware of the leader who says the politically-correct "my door is always open" but seems annoyed if someone barges in.  Keep your ear to the railroad track and understand how the leader truly likes to communicate. 

Don't compromise your principles and values - learning how to work with an insecure leader doesn't mean blindly following whatever the leader asks you to do.  If an insecure leader asks you to do something against your principles be very clear in articulating your objection and why you are objecting. 

My one nugget to you is this: recognize you work for an insecure leader, embrace it, and decide you're going to make the best of the situation.  It will not only yield a better working relationship with your leader, it will also reduce your stress level.

Posted on: May 26, 2020 12:00 PM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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Rodrigo Gregorio Manager| Lite-On Singapore Pte Ltd Singapore, Not Specified, Singapore
Very informative and interesting especially the "eight nuggets". Thanks for sharing.

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Eduin Fernando Valdes Alvarado Project Manager| F y F Fabricamos Futuro Villavicencio, Meta, Colombia
Very interesting., thanks for sharing

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Tumelo Keitumetse Assistant Civil Engineer North District| Botswana Railways Francistown, Botswana
I wish I had seen this article two years ago! Thank you it will become handy in the future.

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Victor Ekunyan CEO| Victor Surveyors Limited United Kingdom
Incredible, great thoughts. Thanks for sharing

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Sauro Tugnoli Engineer & Project Manager| Bucci Industries USA, Inc. Gastonia, Nc, USA
Very good points, thank you

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ANDERSON MUDZAMIRI Geologist| Caledonia Mining Corporation Harare, Zimbabwe
understanding your leader will lead to less stress

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Albert Mkundi None Whitby, Ontario, Canada
Great heads up on understanding leaders

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Jean-Claude Greco Sierre, Valais, Switzerland
Thanks for the sharing !

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