Picture this; you’ve just been promoted to a senior level position in a Fortune 500 company. You’re happy, right? No, truth is, you’re scared to death. Maybe you were the top salesperson in a high performing production unit, and you just accepted the sales manager position overseeing your former peers. On top of the world? No, you feel like ten other people were better suited for the position.
Scenarios like the above are not uncommon. Neither are the insecurities that many leaders-new and experienced-grapple with on the way up. You might wonder why the fuss. Insecurities have been around since the beginning of time. Of course leaders have insecurities, but insecurities are not the most pressing issue organizations have to face. With a credit crunch, possible recession and more pressure to deliver market share breathing down the proverbial neck, who has time to look at something so murky and soft. I would suggest that now is the essential time for leaders to not only deal with their insecurities, but to overcome them.
Somewhere we got off course and began to assume that the leaders of our organizations would have their foibles in check. Management became reactionary and left the details to HR No one took the time or had the desire to nose around the heart condition. Organizations felt content in leaving those issues to the priests and psychologists. A dangerous precedent to set to be sure. Besides, what do you say when you see behavior not becoming to a quality leader? Remembering that most insecure leaders are very good at hiding their deficiencies when confronted. Call it a defense mechanism, but most insecure leaders don’t want to be exposed after a gaffe. It becomes even more difficult if your organization rewards counter-genuine behaviors.
The greatest danger of unchecked insecurities is the impact on the employee. These followers are often left to feel the back draft of an insecure leader’s behavior. These are the same employees that may have sent warning signals in the past and felt certain that the organization would catch the obvious gaps in character shown before. But those gaps were forgotten or overtly ignored in a game of pretend known as the promotion/hiring process.
My experience shows that non-management employees are often willing to do what’s expected and more when their leaders behave in a manner worthy of great respect. They also see their stake in the organization as one that provides for economic security and future growth. When insecure leaders are left unchecked the brilliance of these aspirations fade, leaving the enterprise weak and vulnerable.
At this point, you may think I’m advocating mass firing of all insecure leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are some practical ways that a leader or organization can implement to overcome insecurities:
o Begin with ownership of the baggage (insecurities). Don’t mean to sound like a step program, but owning your issue(s) is a powerful tool. I have found that when leaders begin to manage their decisions, there is a greater likelihood of behavior change. If a leader is unwilling to own what is often obvious to peers, movement to a better day is unlikely.
o Get a mentor(s) that is passionate about your success and future. People like this will be willing to tell you the truth and ask you tough questions. This type of relationship will get you to a place of honesty that you’ve not experienced before. You will also discover that you are not alone in the grappling/struggling with insecurities. Eliot Spitzer could have used mentors like this.
o Don’t isolate and withdraw. Isolation will kill. Think of how the Hyena approaches attacking a lion. Hyenas search for ways to isolate the lion. They instinctively know that to take on a lion one-on-one or in a group would be certain death. However, if they can isolate the lion, victory is often times certain. So it goes with us. If you crawl into your own corner and withdraw it is almost certain that your insecurities will overrun you.
o Find that preferable future (vision) you’ve dreamed of. If you don’t think there is such a thing, then you probably haven’t been asking the right questions. Leaders who start asking questions like “what would my life look like if my wife and I bought that bed and breakfast in Vermont?” will gain laser like focus. I’ve found that I have little time to be a slave to insecurities when I have a vision. It puts you in a position where you want to overcome and not let anything hinder your better future.
In the end, either you will choose to overcome your insecurities or they will overcome you. The business and private world is littered with stories of those who decided not to overcome. When that happens people get hurt. Specifically, people at work, as well as people at home. The better option is to overcome the insecurities and live out something that others will want to follow.
By Michael Williams