Leadership Quality #17: Security – Competence Never Compensates for Insecurity

You can’t lead people if you need people.

Margaret Thatcher may have been called the Iron Lady and been hated by many but it takes a strong, secure person to succeed as a world leader, and that is especially true when the person is a woman. Margaret Thatcher continually swam upstream throughout her life. She was also the first female prime minister in the history of Britain and elected to three consecutive terms as prime minister. She is the only British leader of the modern era to achieve that. She once said, “To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes…What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner, ‘I stand for consensus’?”  Like her or hate her, Margaret Thatcher appeared to have no doubts about herself or her beliefs – and she was absolutely secure in her leadership as a result. That sense of security is the case for all great leaders. No one can live on a level inconsistent with him/herself. If someone sees them self as a loser, they find a way to lose. Any time success surpasses his/her security, the result is self-destruction. That’s not only true for followers, it’s also true for leaders.

Insecure leaders are dangerous – to themselves, their followers and the organisations they lead – because a leadership position amplifies personal flaws. Whatever negative baggage you have in life only gets more difficult to bear when you’re trying to lead others. Insecure leaders have several common traits:

  1. They don’t provide security for others – “You cannot give what you don’t have”. Just as people without skill cannot impart skill to others, people without security cannot make others feel secure. And for a person to become an effective leader, the kind that others want to follow, he or she needs to make their followers feel good about themselves.
  2. They take more from people than they give – Insecure people are on a continual quest for validation, acknowledgement and love. Because of that, their focus is on finding security, not instilling it in others. They are primarily takers rather than givers, and takers do not make good leaders.
  3. They continually limit their best people – Show me an insecure leader, and I’ll show you someone who cannot genuinely celebrate their people’s victories. They might even prevent them from realising any victories. Or this type of leader might take credit personally for the best work of the team. Only secure leaders give power to others – an insecure leader hoards power. In fact, the better his/her people are, the more threatened he/she feels – and the harder that leader will work to limit their success and recognition.
  4. They continually limit the organisation – When followers are undermined and receive no recognition, they become discouraged and eventually stop performing at their potential. And when that happens, the entire organisation suffers.

Shew, it’s hard to be with all that, however, it fuels the passion I have for empowering leaders. So much of this is in the blind-spot and due to a lack of training, and when that shifts, plenty of lives are altered in so many ways…positively.

In contrast, secure leaders are able to believe in others because they believe in themselves. They aren’t arrogant; they know their own strengths and weaknesses and respect themselves. When their people perform well, they don’t feel threatened. They go out of their way to bring the best people together and build them up so that they will perform at the highest level. And when a secure leader’s team succeeds, it brings great joy. Secure leaders see that as the highest compliment for their leadership ability.


How well do you understand and respect yourself? Do you know your strengths and feel good about them? Have you recognised your weaknesses and accepted the ones you cannot change? When a person realises that he/she is created with a particular personality type and has unique gifts, he/she is better able to appreciate the strengths and successes of others.

How secure are you as a leader? When a follower has a great idea, do you support it or suppress it? Do you celebrate your people’s victories? When your team succeeds, do you give the members credit? If not, you may be dealing with insecurity and this could be limiting you, your team and your organisation.

Remember, there is nothing wrong, we are shining the light in places you may not previously have looked and where you focus energy, something grows. It's therefore no surprise almost everyone who completes my Performance through People programme spontaneously shares with me that they feel so much more confident (aka secure) in their leadership ability because it’s unique and true to them, personally.

So, to up your level of security in yourself, do the following:

  • Know yourself – If you are the kind of person who is not naturally self-aware, take time to learn about yourself. Take a personality test – I personally like the Myers-Briggs test but some people love Enneagram. I also use the Sacred Money Archetypes quiz I’m certified in to unlock a client’s money code because how you do money is how you do everything. In this process, you discover your leadership style at the same time! Ask several people who know you well to name your three greatest talents and your three greatest weaknesses. Don’t defend yourself when you hear their answers; gather the information and then reflect on it.
  • Give away the credit – You may not believe that you can succeed if others receive the praise for the job your team is doing. Give it a go and see. If you assist others and acknowledge their contributions, you will help their careers, lift their morale and improve the organisation. And it will make you look like an effective leader.
  • Get some help – If you cannot overcome feelings of insecurity on your own, seek professional help. Get to the root of your problems with the assistance of a good coach, not only for your own benefit but also for that of your people.

French novelist Honoré de Balzac was a keen observer of human nature, and he sought to capture a complete picture of modern civilisation in his huge work The Human Comedy. He observed, “Nothing is a greater impediment to being on good terms with others than being ill at ease with yourself”. Don’t let insecurity prevent you from reaching your potential.

Part 17 of our Leadership Series: Leadership is an Inside Job, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader


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