At some point we have all followed an insecure leader.
We have also been the insecure leader being followed.
Insecurity is a heart/identity issue that is uniquely manifested in how we lead others. Every leader struggles with it in some way, due to both the demanding nature of leadership and the depraved nature of our own hearts.
Shameless Plug: For a more in-depth look at the issue of identity and how it effects our leadership checkout Marks of a Gospel-Centered Leader Part. 1: Identity
Leadership drags out our insecurities because leadership is a difficult and public enterprise. So, we feel the pressure to have all the answers, make great decisions and generally make those that follow us feel secure.
Insecurity is a sinful response to the reality that the only leader who actually has it all together is: Jesus.
What does insecurity look like in the life of a leader? There are many possible manifestations but for the sake of brevity I will share a couple of tell-tale signs.
Insecure Leader Are…
- Slow to Compliment or Encourage Others
Insecure leaders withhold encouragement as a tool to keep other leaders and followers “humble”, which subconsciously keeps the threat of strong leaders emerging and challenging them neutralized. The line of thinking goes: “If they are not affirmed then they will continue performing to earn my praise”. This heart issue manifest in different ways as well. This same core issue , in more serious displays, may look like hazing behavior with followers (regularly insulting subordinates in front of fellow leaders or peers) and in extreme cases, where Gospel-repentance is not pursued, can sadly culminate in serious emotional abuse to the followers. Over long periods of time the leader’s influence slowly erodes as high capacity followers and potential leaders discern this serious underlying insecurity issue and simply move on to work under more Gospel-centered expressions of leadership.
2. Quick to Deflect Blame and Constructive Criticism
This is a more open and obvious manifestation of insecurity in leadership. I do not know a leader who personally has not struggled with this issue at times.
Leaders who regularly justify themselves are forgetting that God has already done that for us in Jesus.
If your response to feedback and correction is “Oh, yeah I know” you are probably being defensive. Of course the core issue in leadership insecurity is pride. You see, deep down we know we do not have all the answers . We know that our leadership is flawed and sin-tainted and motivated, often, by all the wrong things? So, what’s the issue? We do not want to be reminded of those things. So we deflect blame, as opposed to owning responsibility and we reject constructive criticism instead of humbly receiving the feedback and prayerfully discerning how to grow from that interaction. Mark Dever in a recent podcast noted that some of the most helpful advice he received from a friend on receiving criticism was “shut up”. How well someone listens and how little they combatively defend themselves are usually direct reflections on that leader’s level of insecurity.
What do insecure leaders like me need? The Gospel. The Gospel that openly exposes know-it alls as know-nothings. The Gospel that disarms our defensiveness by confronting us with our sinfulness.
Yes, leaders are mess-ups and losers. And the Gospel says we do not have to run from that reality.
And even if the constructive criticism turns into toxic criticism we do not have to run from that either because even the worst criticism with the darkest motives can teach us something about ourselves.
Spurgeon summed it up well: “If any man think ill of you, do not be angry with him. For you are worse than he believes you to be”.
So leaders, lets confess our insecurities and various inadequacy’s. The Gospel frees us to do so. And then, lets rest in Jesus and what He, as the Leader of All Things has won for us and secured us with, in His death and resurrection.