Creative Leadership

It’s Not About You, It’s About The Mission

Don't let insecurity be an obstacle to your team

I starting thinking the other day about my work as a media consultant for non-profit and religious organizations. At Cooke Media Group, we have some wonderful clients, who are genuinely attempting to do great things in the media, and we’re thrilled to be part of their team. But as I look over my career, I realize now that I’ve spent at least 35-40% of my time at many organizations negotiating the minefields of overly sensitive people. I’m talking about people who are insecure – people who get their feelings hurt at the drop of a hat, or think every suggestion or change in a project is a personal criticism of them or their past decisions.

You probably have had the same experience, no matter what field you happen to work. I often think that if I could just go into an organization and cut right to the chase – look at a project, examine what’s right or wrong, discuss the options, kick around ideas, fix the problems, tweak the rest, and create something great – that would be wonderful. But nearly half my time is spent dancing around the touchy sensibilities of extremely delicate people.

Understand that I’m not talking about normal people here. I’m all for encouragement, inspiration, praise, and people skills. We all need to be thanked, applauded, and treated well. But insecure people need far more attention than that. In fact, they’re often so high maintenance, they wear everyone around them out.

Everyone’s a little different, but here are some of their traits:

• They can’t stand to see someone else get credit.
• They have to be in charge of the process. Control is a huge issue.
• They aren’t interested in other people’s opinions or ideas.
• They take any criticism or suggestions as a personal attack.
• They come off as bullies.
• They explode at the drop of a hat. Often, like alcoholics, they apologize profusely later, but the damage is already done.
• They have a million reasons why your idea will never work.

These people spend enormous time covering their backsides in fear. I know one that tries to keep employees from talking to each other because he fears they’ll be talking about him. Another is costing his organization hundreds of thousands of dollars because he refuses to listen to his subordinate’s ideas. Others who refuse to allow change to happen and are stuck in the 1980’s.

I’m convinced they know who they are, because for these tormented men and women, it’s a way of life. Always living in fear of being found out (as if we didn’t know), looking over their shoulder, spending enormous effort to be perceived as “in charge,” and more.

So if you’re insecure, remember:

1) You’re not hiding anything. Everyone in your office already knows.
2) Your probably costing your organization enormous amounts of money because you refuse to listen to alternatives or try new ideas.
3) You’re alienating your most talented people by your dismissive and sometimes explosive behavior.
4) And you’re wearing yourself out with fear.

Instead try this:

Admit to your employees and co-workers that there are areas in which you’re not an expert, and ask for their help. Truly listen to their ideas and give them a shot. The downside you fear will happen (losing respect) isn’t an issue because that’s already happened. And the upside? You’re still the boss, and if their ideas work, you’ll be the genius that led your team to success.

What have you got to lose?

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18 Comments

  1. Great post Phil!

    There are three general problems with "troublesome" Christian media ministries:  They don't like self-restraint, they won't self-critique and they won't join in any independent overwatch organization.  This is a recipe for disaster. 

    The fix?  Dedication to the imposition of self-restraint, which is what Abraham Lincoln talked about in the Gettysburg Address.

  2. Enjoyed this blog.  The churches forward movement has been hindered many times by insecure leaders.  Thanks for this…

  3. This I found in a review of the book:

    "What fascinates her is that people will continue to follow leaders, remain loyal to leaders, and vigorously resist change and challenges to leaders who have clearly violated the leader/follower relationship and abjectly abused their power as leaders to the direct detriment of the people they are leading. When we continue not only to tolerate leaders such as this, but to remain loyal followers (the book is full of examples of just this phenomenon), and when such people fascinate us through the media images they project, and we find them positively alluring, Lipman-Blumen suggests there is something of a deeply psychological nature going on and this is the place where her remarkably penetrating investigation takes off, in the central question of the book: What are the forces that propel followers, again and again, to accept, often favor, and sometimes create, toxic leaders?"

    These are valid questions.  I've never read the book, but my interest is piqued.  Admittedly, the answer I most want is as follows:  How do we interact with these leaders and their sycophants productively?

    Ideas?  Anyone!

    'Cause Phil, I don't think these leaders or their followers know who they are.  In many cases, the rest of us have a bit of trouble figuring it out too!  You know they're a royal pain, but figuring out why can take a while.  Figuring out what to do about it, longer!

    There's a sycophant of one of these fruitcake leaders trying to reach me right now. He will claim his call is social, but he'll be trying to manipulate me into revealing information his boss can use for one of his selfish agendas.  The sycophant isn't a bad guy, but he is weak and silly.  If he weren't, he wouldn't be an errand boy for a sociopath.   I wish he and I could be friends, but for that he'd have to have a bit more respect, both for himself and for me.

     These leaders are a nuisance at best, and their followers remind me of some of Shakespeare's more memorable tragic characters.  How do we deal with all this drama?  How do we interact with them in ethical, productive ways?  

  4. Great writing – I especially loved your last point. I would give my right arm to be elevated into a position way beyond my abilities – heck thats where you can take the credit for everyone else's great ideas! Who cares if you take the kudos, take the glory, take the pay rise, ….but for heavens sake just make sure you take the great ideas that help your organisation move forward.

  5. One of the many things I love about my wife is that she can continually help me stay humble so that I do not catch the "Its all about me" bug that ruins so many ministries

  6. Man, does this post hit home. I was recently laid off from a producing position that was a revolving door for others, many of them because they didn't have the "culture" of the church. The leader "in charge" had a direct path to the pastor, who trusted this person implicitly. The leader had no experience, background or education in media but was promoted to Executive Producer for the tv show because they were "faithful", and because they had slowly, eventually gotten rid of the competition. (They were also put in charge of missions, but had never been a missionary or spent significant time on the mission field.) Normal production, distribution and workflow issues were often explained, but one could tell that these ideas and info just rattled around in their brain. Light on, nobody home. They were afraid to admit they didn't know the basics out of insecurity. If you were smarter than them, you were a threat. The sad fact is that this person ran off scores of good, talented people, rarely if ever admitted mistakes, bullied people, worked them to death and pointed to others to cover their backside. Because the pastor trusted (still does) this person completely, he only knows, mostly, what he's told by the leader. Which is the way he likes it; one less ministry to worry about. The media ministry is a train wreck. An expensive one.

    This might describe one of your ministry leaders, which is sad. There is so much to do for God these days, and media has proven to be an effective tool when used properly. I like the "Good To Great" analogy: there are some people on the bus in the wrong seat. Get them into the right seat asap. Others can be trained and developed to someday be in another seat. But others shouldn't be on the bus at all. Be nice, but get them off that bus pronto!

  7. I've discovered in the past and upon reflection as I move through some of this training that you have to pick your battles.

    Toxic leadership is a pretty harsh term.  It's a good description but then, there are many good people who have leadership weaknesses who may feel toxic in a given situation, but basically, if you can figure out how to get their attention and appeal to their better judgment to change things, you have a chance of succeeding.  They're not unreasonable, their just either blind to their own weaknesses or are reacting to a fear of a loss of control.

    It's a risk to challenge a leader to reconsider their approach to issues.  You can make the appeal and be misunderstood and then you're on the outside looking in.  A good leader "should" receive this type of input and even if they don't use it, they'll go out of their way to praise the person giving it and explain why they don't agree with it or can't use it.  Their goal will be to not cut off the communication and they'll know they don't know it all and need that kind of input.  A basically good leader with a blind spot will probably try in the long run to listen and learn something.

    There's those toxic type leaders however, that'll turn on you.  I learned a long time ago, even before I understand the academic models, that there's worse things than losing a job or moving on when you've got nowhere else to go in a situation and you can't respect or move an organization forward anymore.  That's happened once in my life.  I wish I knew what I know now and had enough wisdom to have done it sooner in that situation.  It would have saved me and the organization a lot of pain.  They didn't change, didn't want to change and have gone on to chew up my successors in the same way they did me.

  8. The problem is the very first thing – what is a leader and why do we have leaders in the first place? If the foundations are wrong from the onset you are just wasting time trying to resolve from the top down. Real great leaders never in the first place ever see themselves as leaders in the first place. Secondly there is a season for who they are leading and how long they are to lead for to establish a purpose or mission in the first place. Thirdly a leader should be confident to release people to do what they do best and get on with something else if that mission is accomplished. What happens is they stay in a position they ought to have resigned from a long time ago because of stagnation among many other reasons. When something stops growing/spreading it will eventually become stagnant and when it becomes stagnant it will become corrupt. Fear works for both the insecure leader and the insecure/unthinking followers especially when everybody is comfortable – convenient complacency.

  9. To tell you the truth most leaders are just doing what has been passed down to them without actually thinking the obvious – why am I doing this? Where am I going with this and is this the best I can do? Do I really love these people to see that I can treat them better and add value to their lives? Am I happy to see these people I am leading discover themselves and grow into their own? Do I mind if they never come back? What is the period of time I can best function in this role? Can I see a life beyond this ‘leadership’ role? Do I want to be forced/fall out before I know it is time to move on? Can I admit my past mistakes and then move on knowing that I am human and that I never really knew everything no matter how much education I’ve acquired? Am I willing to submit to those I am leading? So I don’t hold it against them like I used to – we got scales in our eyes that need to broken up by the power of God through His Holy Spirit. Why do we have scales in our eyes?

  10. Steve Jobs, head of Apple, said something perceptive in the mid-80s: Really good leaders don't flaunt their leadership. Most solid manager/leaders derive from good, qualified mid-level workers who look around when there is a vacuum in decision-making and leadership…and then STEP UP and say, "Alright! That's enough. If no one is gonna do it. I will." I've been at this for 30+ years. Seen it all. More than most. I finally chose to be a leader because the other ridiculous, blathering, toxic idiots who ruined every other Christian media dept around my colleagues and I so screwed it up I finally said, deep into ministry survival mode, "ENOUGH!"

  11. I've been pushed out of a few churches because people like me and I walk my talk–which makes me visible and threatening. Right now I'm the target of a whisper campaign because I apparently have too much going for me, and a few people aren't going to tolerate that.

    I don't know how things got topsy-turvy, but there seems to be more grace outside the church than in. I join a church and out come the cudgels. I join a secular organization and, without a word from me, the casual swearing cleans up, the jokes clean up and people admire me.

    Wait! Hold the phone! I think I see a pattern here! The same thing happened to Jesus. Now there's a heady thought!

  12. Bette, find another kind of church and be blessed.

    Not all Churches are afraid of strong women, but many are.   Get away from those bedwetters!  Find other strong, confident Christian women and the strong, confident men who appreciate them, then make yourself at home. 

    Until you do so, you'll be made to feel like a wet dog at a nudist colony picnic at every church function.   That's not the fellowship you deserve.

  13. I read this article, see these comments, and I wonder if I'm that kind of leader (I head an auxiliary in a church ministry).  True – I have been threatened by other members who've challenged me to rethink my decisions… but not to a point of not accepting their ideas & trying it (albeit with reservation).  The thing is, I've heeded but then have been guilty of being suspicious of them (nervous that those same ppl may be feeling like I'm not a capable leader b/c they had what turned out to be a better idea).  I definitely already knew that I had insecurities.  However, I don't want to be a hindrance to the auxiliary that I lead.  I've been battling this for quite some time, and have asked God to help so that I know my identity is in Him, and not in the things I do.  Thanks for this article & book suggestions.  I will take all into account.

  14. I usually enjoy your thoughts, but this one sounds like you just came out of a bad experience and you are venting why everyone else sucks.  Hmmmm.  Are we getting the whole story?   

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