The Tragedy of Insecurity in Leadership

“It’s a reflection on them and their insecurity…not on you.” Sadly, I must have said this ten times this week to people I care about.

It wasn’t in reference to Fortune 500 leaders or to any of the inspirational CEOs I work with. Instead, it was in reference to the “everyday leaders” in our lives; those we are supposed to be able to trust. A coach from a local high school who was fired from our high school many years ago and has held a grudge, so much so that he is trying to keep our best students from competing against his in a debate tournament. Another local coach who lost years ago in an important debate round to our coach – when they were teenagers for goodness sake, and who is doing the same thing to our team. A friend whose father embarrassed him miserably in a toast at his birthday party for “not following in his footsteps” and then put down his grandchild by dismissing her success.

Coaches, directors, parents, grandparents. The people we believe understand the importance of the examples they set every day in our lives and the lives of our children, friends and family members. We expect them to put aside their personal issues and rise to the occasion that their leadership demands.

And so often recently I see them failing us.

As I am not them, I can only guess what’s at the core of their bitterness, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet: insecurity. Insecurity blossoms when we hold on to a failure or loss that we experience and then internalize as “unworthiness.” We think we’re unworthy of success or respect, of that raise or promotion, or worse, of love. Instead of understanding the failure or loss and forgiving others and ourselves in order to move through it and past it, we hold it and all of its toxicity. This toxicity means doubt and fear are leaking into our minds and bodies, and sometimes we take this out on others, those whom we are meant to be leading and motivating and inspiring.

As humans we have a very clear set of needs, delineated beautifully by Maslow:

The Tragedy of Insecurity in Leadership image hierarchy of needs maslow erg clayton  understanding people 1024x636The Tragedy of Insecurity in Leadership

We can all see how insecurity can prevent every level of need from being met. I love how this graphic is very clear at the bottom: “Access to the higher levels requires satisfaction in the lower level needs.” We cannot become fully actualized if our lower level needs, including love and belonging and self-esteem are not being met. And sometimes, when we subconsciously recognize this, we try to bring others down with us rather than doing the work to raise ourselves up.

As humans, this is understandable but so sad. As leaders, this can be disastrous for everyone around us.

Let’s agree that as leaders we’ll work on ourselves in order to bring our fully actualized selves not only to our formal leadership roles, but to all the “everyday” roles we play as well. It’s the best way to honor ourselves, our followers, those who look up to us, and those we truly love.

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