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Christian are called to walk by faith. Of course, this includes Christian leaders. A part of our calling in leadership means we won’t always know what the future holds, but we steadfastly follow God’s leadership.

I must be honest. As I work with Christian leaders – and I observe the culture and leaders within the world – I sometimes see more confident leadership outside the church than within. How can this be?
People of faith have assurance in Whom we are following. We can lead people with confidence, strength and conviction.

Insecurity though always shows up in a person’s life. It can possibly be disguised, but it can’t be hidden. Insecure people – or people who aren’t secure in who they are personally or comfortable with their abilities – display some common characteristics.

I’m not talking about unprepared leaders. We are always to be growing as leaders. We will always face things we don’t know how to do. That’s why we keep learning and growing.

I’m talking about insecurity – specifically lacking God-given confidence in the call of God we’ve been given.

Insecurity is a normal emotion when we are exposed to something new, but as we mature in leadership – and especially in our faith and calling – we should guard against the negative impacts of insecurity.

Here are 7 traits you may see in an insecure leader:

Defensive towards any challenge.

The insecure leader flares his or her insecurity when ideas or decisions they make made are challenged in any way. They remain protective of their position or performance. They are constantly looking over their shoulder expecting someone to question them or their authority.

Protective of personal information.

The insecure leader keeps a safe distance from followers. Their transparency is limited to only what can be discovered by observation. When personal information is revealed, it’s always shared in the most positive light. This is about them and their family. They only want you to believe – and know – the best about their world.

Always positions his or herself out front.

Insecure leaders assume all key assignments or anything which would give attention to the person completing them. They are careful not to give others the spotlight. They use words like “I” and “My” more than “We” or “Our”. They tend to control informtion – everything goes through them first.

Limits other’s opportunities for advancement.

The insecure leader wants to keep people under his or her control, so as to protect their position. They are leery of strong personalities or other leaders. They have “yes” people around them and guard against anyone who displays leadership potential. They hand out titles only to those they believe will never question their authority.

Refuses to handle delicate issues.

Insecure leaders fear not being liked, so they often ignore the most difficult or awkward situations. They talk behind people’s backs rather than to them. They are likely to say one thing to one person and something else to another – depending on what is popular at the time.

Makes everything a joke.

One huge sign of an insecure leader, in my experience,  is they make a joke about everything. Again, they don’t want to handle the hard stuff – and want to be liked – so joking is often a coping mechanism used to divert attention from the issues they don’t want to face. When people laugh it gives a false sense of being liked to the insecure leader.

Overly concerned about personal appearance.

While this is not always the case, some insecure leaders are never far from a mirror. They are overly conscious of their clothing or hair. Afraid of not being in style or wanting to be accepted as hip or cool, they are constantly looking for the latest fashion trends or attempting to be cutting edge with the gadgets they carry. (I’ve observed the opposite here could also be true. The insecure leader is careful not to stand out, so they appear to have no concern for personal appearance at all.)

Please understand, all of us have moments of insecurity. Leaders, especially, if they want to be effective, must learn to recognize signs of insecurity, figure out the root causes of it, and attempt to limit insecurity from affecting their leadership. And, again, Christian leaders, we have reason to be confident – if we are truly following closely to our Leader.

What other traits have you seen that indicate someone is an insecure leader?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 39 Comments

  • RevTrev says:

    Good article. Lots of great information on recognizing signs of insecurity. What I wish this article had was more pointed questions and solutions. One sentence of solutions (“Leaders, especially, if they want to be effective, must learn to recognize signs of insecurity, figure out the root causes of it, and attempt to limit insecurity from affecting their leadership.”) isn’t as helpful if there were more solutions suggested in this. Thank you for writing it and sharing it though.

  • I have also known insecurities to cause a person to bully others or try to make them feel less valuable or stupid.I.e…….big me little you

  • TJZ says:

    I agree with the vast majority of the article, and with the perspectives of most of the comments.

    One additional consideration I think we may neglect is the possibility that one may actually be unprepared for a leadership position. Sure, God can provide miraculous assistance and power when we simply make ourselves available to His calling. But there are times a leader–particularly one who will be shepherding the hearts of Christ-followers–needs to make sure they have done due diligence to prepare themselves for the task at hand. We need to be able to responsibly handle the Word of God, to counsel without doing harm, etc. There will be plenty of opportunities for God's power to show up when we trust Him in times of uncertainty. But that doesn't mean we should approach leadership unprepared.

    I know this article doesn't suggest that we under-prepare. But it doesn't explicitly mention the fact that it is possible to be unprepared either. Just thought that was worth a mention.

    Thanks for the great article!

  • Carey says:

    How does the insecure leader differ from a narcissistic leader? I'm not sure there is much difference.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Narcissism is a personality disorder – psychological – I'm not sure insecurity is always at that level, but certainly if a person had several or all of these traits it would indicate the person may be narcissistic. 

  • Great article Ron! I may say that these traits are interesting to follow even when we are not dealing with a leader. Understanding that someone feels insecure can help us adapt our conversation or explanation in a better direction, so the other person feels confident. The lack of confidence a leader feels translates in the worst way possible: they do not listen to valuable employees, they tend to do the things their way or the highway and overall, they are not reliable. And this is not a win-win situation for anybody.

  • jimpemberton says:

    Thanks for this list, Rom. It's not an area I have thought much about.

    I know people who work under insecure leaders and I can see now that that's the primary source of frustration for them. It appears that insecurity leads to other issues that we might identify on their own merit. For example, limiting others' opportunities for advancement can result in micromanagement. We can identify the micromanagement, but fail to see the cause is insecurity.

    An insecure leader negatively affects the working environment for their team. In their effort to control (I can hear the contention: "Shouldn't leaders control?") they end up working against themselves. That leads to that frustration I mentioned above. How can a team feel accomplished when they are redirected to accomplishing less or even doing counterproductive things simply because the leader is insecure?

    • ronedmondson says:

      Good thoughts Jim, as always. I think team members in this case sometimes have to find their “satisfaction” in work in what they can directly control. I can be responsible for another person's performance – I can only be responsible to know I have done the best I can do – within the authority I've been given. And, when the frustration is unbearable, there are a few options – learn to live with it (usually not the best one), lead up, and seek other opportunities elsewhere. 

  • Alex says:

    Another great and profitable post, Ron. I will try to add two more more traits that I have dealt with in my 30+ years of ministry leadership. iI have learned that insecure leadership (or traits) also carry :
    1. A critical spirit. They are very critical of others particularly in those areas they either know a lot about or know very little about. Interesting how that works – at least in my observation.
    2. They come across as "know it all's" They try to initiate discussions that often lead to arguments about something they assume others don't know much about it – trying to share the "best" answers they ever found. These two traies run rampid in many circles and are very destructive to any team, leadership team, or community. Appearing to be wise, they become destructive (I won't be too biblical here 🙂 )
    thanks for another great post, Ron.

  • homeonthursday says:

    Great post Ron! You make a lot of great points. I think you are spot on with your point on insecure leaders being guarded with information. I have seen this come across many ways. One of the most common is they are also very guarded when it comes to information about their team. They don't like people to look in on their teams, for fear of being picked apart.

    The other common thing I see relates to how they build and develop teams. Insecure leaders don't invest in other people the same way as secure leaders do. They either feel threatened by it, or don't feel confident they bring any value. This also translates into how they hire and build their team. While a secure leader wants to surround themselves with people who are better than them, insecure leaders want to be the most knowledgeable, the most talented, and the one in control.

  • Carrie says:

    Insecurity in leadership is like the Plague. It can be very draining and discouraging to deal with. Thanks for the post. Many times insecure leaders make you think (or try to make you think) that something is wrong with you and that you don't really see what is truly apparent–their insecurity.

  • Douglas McClure says:

    Mass communication pieces for everything. More company-wide memos and email than personal communication.

  • danonleadership says:

    Hello Rob,

    Insecure leaders unfortunately don't hire talented people or train the people they lead. Great post!

  • Terence says:

    Ron I find the continuous talking as a control ploy as well. A good leader will work to develop great listening skills.

  • Thanks Ron for sharing. I like your conclusion. I have also found myself at times fighting with what I had never thought that it was insecurity. Your sharing has opened my eyes to know and therefore find ways of overcoming that issues.

  • Some other traits that I have you seen in an insecure leader:

    — Always passing the buck
    — Punishing the messenger
    — Not listening
    — Playing favorites
    — Claiming credit that he don't deserve

  • jessica garcia says:

    I think this is an oversimplified.set of insecurity flags. If only it were that obvious. Still, it is a good thing to ponder. And, lastly, as a teacher, I need to.say there is no such word as hisself, it should read “him” or herself.

  • They talk a larger percentage of the time than they listen. This plays out a lot when they ask questions and they manage to always direct the conversation back to themselves in the end.

  • Bryan K

    It seems as though they have a lot of “busy” work. Programs that appear to be moving in a forward direction, but never really crossing the threshold of responsibility, confrontation, always staying in a safe conmfort zone.
    I think it goes with the one you mentioned before with wanting to be in style; they just aren’t willing to put themselves on the line, no self-sacrifices. Usually talk a good game, but no show.