Creative Leadership

Insecurity – Do you (or someone you know) suffer from It?

Let’s talk about insecurity for a minute, because organizations around the world have employees (and leaders) who are riddled with it. Both religious organizations as well as Hollywood (interesting combination) are literally filled with people who suffer from insecurity. It’s a complex issue, and there are various resources available that cover the subject. The biggest problem for us is the chaos it creates in the workplace.

For someone insecure, deep inside, they KNOW they’re not cutting it, so instead of focusing on being successful, they focus on not looking bad. That’s why they aren’t working and making things happen. Instead, they spend time in other people’s offices asking things like “Do the other employees like me?” or “Don’t you think the boss considers me a friend?”

Their career becomes about damage control instead of accomplishment. They spend more time managing their reputation rather than managing the organization. I guess getting noticed – even for something negative – is better than not being noticed at all. My impatience comes from the fact that I see it in religious organizations and secular organizations every day. And because of that, I have little patience for it.

The question becomes, how can we help fix the problem? In many of these cases, the people have deep-seated issues. Sometimes it was being told as children they weren’t worth anything, or grew up being surrounded by negativity. They often worry about being found out – that sooner or later, someone will see that I’m not good enough at my job.

So what do they do? They overcompensate. They’re determined to not let anyone find them out, so they usually do the worst possible thing. They take charge and take over. The problem is, everyone already knows they’re not so good at what they’re doing. But instead of asking for help – that’s the last thing an insecure person wants to do. So they start giving orders, try to take over projects, and do things they believe will show everyone they’re in charge.

Which of course usually leads to disaster. Even when they’re surrounded by a great team, they won’t take advantage of it, because – in their mind – to do so, would reveal their incompetence. When in reality, not asking for help is exactly what reveals their incompetence.

I know you have these people in your office – or probably have one as a boss. Any suggestions here? I have two questions for you:

1) If it’s your boss, how do you cope?
2) If it’s someone you care about, how can we help insecure people break out of their insecurity?

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8 Comments

  1. Insecurity really drives me nuts, and it's such a sneaky issue. You tend to think of insecure people as the corner-dwelling wallflowers who never open their mouths except to agree with somebody, but in real life it's amazingly prevalent. I think anyone who has ever failed at something and seen what it costs them has to struggle with it. You take a risk and someone doesn't like it – well, what does that teach you? On the other hand, if you take a risk and a someone doesn't like it while a bunch of other people LOVE it, you might be more inclined to try it again. In my experience, it comes down to humility and faith. If I truly trust God, truly believe that he has gifted me and is leading me in everything I do, then how can I fail? I may ruffle feathers, but as I walk with him, talk with him, submit all my ideas and plans to him, I will experience his blessing. It's right there in the Bible: "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act." (Ps. 37:5) We serve the God of all creativity, knowledge, and business sense – who better to be informing our risky decisions?

  2. That's a really great point.  The "insecure" guy might not be the wallflower, but more likely is the outgoing, take charge guy.  It often appears to the be opposite of what you'd think…

  3. Answers: 1) Love and 2) LOVE – I've really found it to be the only successful answer.  But how you apply God's Love takes prayer and careful selfless application.  I've had some bosses, supervisors, and co-workers that had the type of insecurity you spoke of that have made it impossible (almost) to work with.  I bring them up in prayer and if I listen – stopping my yap for just a moment – God points something(s) out that I can do – gulp – for them.  I might dislike them with a passion but after being obedient I find a sincere Love from God seems to come up from 'me belly.  Whatever it is might be insignificant to me but could mean everything to them.  Because you've made it spiritual one of two things will happen: either 1) you'll see those walls of insecurity start to come down and you'll have a special repore with them which allows you to see them growing or 2) they'll become worse toward you because of irrational jealousy and God WILL remove them.  You see, when you walk in God's Love it allows Him to move in your life as well as in the lives of others.  From my experiences I've found if there's any variance to this it was because I "peppered" it with a little self-justified complaining, bitterness, and – oh my – insecurity.

  4. Paul de Jong did a really awesome couple of messages on this. His point is everyone has insecurity and it's not really possible to get rid of. You can however isolate it, and reduce it to a minimum. He gives these keys on how to do that:

    1. Accept it's presence

    2. Confront it's dominance by God given identity
      -Most insecurity is rooted in a lack of identity

    3. Understand the value of uniqueness
      -stop comparing
      -God created you because he needed you, not someone else

    4. Establish God's settled and directed boundaries
      -God made boundaries to protect us, keeping within those boundaries keeps you safe, and you don't have a reason to be insecure.

    He also has some other points on insecurity that helps the people around:
    -it fosters self doubt
    -it blocks affirmation
    -pushes responsibility of failure onto others
    -focuses in on the safe
    -will refuse to reach into the unknown
    -says "can not" in stead of "will not"
    -reiterate discouragement, making it hard to see truth
    -keeps a person looking back rather than forward
    -constantly comparing
    -shows off as cynicism, which is often a result of failed trust
    -is excessive, controlling and manipulative
    -leads to compromise

  5. I have had the opportunity to work with a few of these "yes men" although one was a lady. Incredibly frustrating. They would take credit for all your ideas unless they botched it up and than it was all your fault. I even got blamed for stuff I never did because they never owned up or took responsibilty for their own mistakes. I tried the "love walk" but I am no better because I didn't confront it – probably because I had too much emotion (anger) and felt unable to without saying something I should not- it reminds me of your comment Phil about american churches not working together and the UK churches finding harmony and non competitiveness…..what we could accomplish if we could all just get along and work together…..ahh tower of babel comes to mind. So my vote is confront it – don't allow it to hinder the potential good to improve- somebody needs to step up to the plate and risk being honest – the other thing is create a loving environment that says its ok to make a mistake – that doesn't mean failure – support the effort and communicate when someone is not taking responsibilty or being honest-

  6. It takes a lot of encouragement and re-assurance. It is a long journey because insecurity breeds pride and that blind-spot is not easy to handle. I don’t have a solution but I do know that God has created all of us for a good purpose and great future (Jer 29:11) and we are all fearfully & wonderfully made (Psalms 139). That is something they need to discover for themselves and for us to bring that truth to light.

  7. My former co-worker was extremely insecure, to over compensate she controlled the staff and crew, bullied and harassed us, giving her a false sense of authority and security in her job. Because I worked the closest with her, I got it the worst. It didn’t help that I could run circles around her blindfolded, plus she didn’t have good rapport with people and I did. There was nothing I could do right in her eyes, so she bullied me in the office and publicly for two years. My boss addressed the issue with empty warnings, and then proceeded to promote her to Station Mgr for less than a year while my boss was away. My new co-worker boss took my job and made me her assistant – the harassment, control and bulling went further. I took the abuse from her, trying to do the right thing with love and not defend myself, when that didn’t work, I’d stick my finger in her face with clenched teeth and stuck up for myself. That didn’t work either. Nothing worked; my boss didn’t come to my rescue while she was there, my accommodating or encouraging behavior towards her, nor my anger. When all else failed and nowhere to turn, I sent a detailed complaint letter to our headquarters. After an investigation, my boss was ordered to come back to our station and to terminate my co-worker. But her termination didn’t happen. My boss reinstated my original position and allowed my co-worker to stay, believing she could change her. No changed happened, the cycle continued for one more year.
    In the three years I was harassed, controlled and bullied because of her insecurity, I never found a way to help her feel secure in her position. The more I tried, the worse it got. I often encouraged her to pursue her real talent and passion, which was very far from her media job (she chose a profession she hated and was not gifted in). Finally, she bullied one too many of our on air talents and quit her job shortly after because she felt we were all against her. She maintained her innocence until the end.
    How do you cope in this given situation; an extreme form of insecurity, but not uncommon? File a lawsuit for being bullied- perhaps it would wake someone up. Find another job when you feel God has not released you yet? Go over your bosses head and take the consequences? Be a consistent door mat to be further trampled on and paralyzed? Physical contact…. I often fought the feelings of going over and decking her one! I sometimes think that would have worked.
    An insecure person who use these tactics causes employee morale and paralyzation of an organization/business. They’re a liability. If they can’t get secure in themselves without becoming a nuisance (which is a personal matter), they should be fired. But if you aren’t the boss, how do you cope?!!!

  8. Very good article. I love the point about insecure people not focusing on being successful but rather overcompensating. It offers a good solution to those who might have a tendency to struggle with insecurity.

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