How to Be a Secure Leader
Expand your influence by building your confidence
I have a friend who went to a church as the new lead pastor. His preaching was great, attendance was up, income was up — but it didn’t go well at all. The people didn’t like him!
When he accepted the position of lead pastor at another church, he was more strategic. Every day for three months, he spent relational time with a different key leader in the church. His preaching was still great, the income was up, attendance was up — but this time, something was different. The people liked him! He had made relationships a priority.
Your talent, your intellect, and your ability won’t get you far if people don’t like you. In ministry, business, or even in your family, if people don’t like you, they won’t follow you. They might obey you, but only to keep their jobs, get what they want, or get you off their back. Leadership is about relationships.
Am I saying that you must please everyone? Absolutely not! Trying to make everyone happy is exhausting, discouraging, and — above all — impossible. Being well-liked means that you actively cultivate healthy relationships with others. People may not like everything you do, but if they like you, they’ll work with you.
What is it that keeps some people from being effective in relationships? Why is it they struggle to be liked? Why are other less talented people so skilled at liking and being liked by others?
I don’t want to oversimplify what can be a complex issue, but often the reason some people have trouble developing relationships is because they are insecure. They aren’t confident in themselves. Because they lack confidence in themselves, they aren’t effective at relating to and leading others.
If I don’t like me, it’s difficult for you to like me, or for me to like you. If you don’t like yourself, it affects every relationship in your life and every leadership opportunity.
Perhaps you struggle with insecurity. As someone who has struggled with insecurity my entire life, I want to offer help if you struggle with this issue. I’m not writing as an expert or a psychologist but as a fellow struggler.
Perhaps you don’t struggle with insecurity, but you work for or with someone who is insecure. If you learn how to recognize when they’re leading or acting out of insecurity, this will help you help them. You’ll be able to live or work with them with greater understanding.
The Differences Between Secure and Insecure Leaders
What are the differences between a secure leader and an insecure leader? Whether it’s a football coach, a pastor, a teacher, a CEO, a world leader, or a school principal, you can observe the results of a person’s leadership and determine whether he or she is a secure or insecure leader.
An insecure leader takes the credit. When someone else succeeds, insecure leaders divert attention to their own success or input. Insecure leaders make sure people know the success couldn’t have happened without them. They’re quick to let everyone know their contribution to the win.
A secure leader shares the credit with others. Even if the credit for success rightfully belongs to a secure leader, they give it to others. Why? The secure leader understands it’s not about who gets the credit; it’s about accomplishing the mission. A secure leader wants to build up the team, and nothing builds a team quite like a shared victory.
Insecure leaders surround themselves with weak people. To ensure they’re admired and adored, insecure leaders make sure no one in their inner circle is as strong as, or stronger, than they are.
Secure leaders surround themselves with strong people. Secure leaders are comfortable with the strengths of others and will often hire staff who are strong in their areas of weakness. Their mindset is: “The stronger my team, the stronger I become. Their strengths lift me! Together we do more.”
When insecure leaders evaluate themselves, they see only weaknesses. Insecure leaders focus on everything they aren’t, everything they should be, and everything they wish they were or could’ve been. Most of the time, they don’t do this publicly, but if you listen carefully, you can pick it up in their self-talk.
Insecure leaders are prone to depression, burnout, and moodiness because they’re evaluating themselves against a standard they can never meet. If you dwell only on your weaknesses, you’ll give up easily and resist the risks you need to take to succeed.
Secure leaders acknowledge personal weaknesses and strengths. It’s interesting, but the more secure the leaders, the more comfortable they are admitting their own weaknesses and what they don’t do well. At the same time, what separates them from insecure leaders is that though they are transparent about their own weaknesses, they don’t dwell on them.
Insecure leaders evaluate themselves based on comparison. When you compare yourself with others, you put your position, your accomplishments, your talents, your relationships, your possessions, your strengths, and your weaknesses on one side of the scale and measure them against those of someone else to determine your value or worth. The comparison method often focuses on the past. It’s about making comparisons with the people they went to high school or college with, or the people who started at the same time in the company. “Look what they’ve done, and I haven’t. If only I could be like them.”
Secure leaders evaluate themselves based on their potential. Secure leaders ask questions like:
- How am I doing right now?
- Am I growing?
- Am I reaching my potential?
- Am I maximizing my strengths?
Secure leaders learn from the past but push toward the future.
Insecure leaders can’t laugh at themselves. Insecure leaders think a mistake is a tragedy, a reason to be depressed, and a reaffirmation of their weaknesses.
Secure leaders laugh at their mistakes. Secure leaders see a mistake as another opportunity to learn. In fact, they tell stories about their mistakes as examples to others.
An insecure leader resists evaluation. The insecure leader often evaluates others harshly, but is unwilling to be evaluated. It hurts too much to hear about areas that need improving. Insecure leaders have fallen for a classic lie: “My performance equals my self-worth.”
A secure leader embraces evaluation and input from others as an opportunity to grow. In fact, secure leaders create forums to get that input. They ask for evaluation!
To be clear — unsolicited, random input is rarely helpful. But strategic, targeted, requested input from wise people is almost always helpful.
An insecure leader produces followers. Insecure leaders don’t raise up leaders because they’re afraid those leaders might expose their weaknesses. They may have loyal followers, but very few leaders. With an insecure leader, it’s most often a one-person show.
Paul’s wholehearted embrace of God’s plan for his life is a good model for us to follow.
A secure leader produces leaders. You can tell the quality of a leader by the quality of the people who work for him or her. A good team won’t keep working for an insecure leader. A strong leader attracts secure leaders to the organization. The more secure the leader, the more secure people want to work with that person.
An insecure leader only experiences success for a season. An insecure leader can experience success, just not lasting success. An insecure leader doesn’t build an organization that can stand the test of time because, as the star of the show, the majority of the power, decision-making, and control is centered on him or her. The organization cannot grow beyond the ability of the insecure leader to control it.
A secure leader enjoys enduring success. A secure leader continually thinks about what’s next and asks questions like these:
- What will happen after I’m gone?
- How can I ensure we keep growing?
- What people can I bring around me to take us to the next level?
Insecure leaders keep the blessings to themselves. The perks, the pay, the key relationships, and exciting opportunities all belong to the insecure leaders, because they are the leaders.
Secure leaders share the blessings! Secure leaders want their team to be well-compensated and appreciated. They willingly share relationships, opportunities, and blessings.
An insecure leader produces insecure followers. One of my friends worked for a leader whose basic leadership philosophy was to keep the people around him off-balance. He didn’t want anyone to get too comfortable. The result was an insecure, weak, underperforming team. But this let the leader be the star.
A secure leader produces secure leaders. If you see an organization filled with secure leaders, it didn’t happen by accident. That’s the product of a secure leader building an effective team. Secure leaders are comfortable with the successes of others, and they want the people around them to operate in their strengths.
How to Become a Secure Leader
Which type of leader are you — secure or insecure? Did you identify more with the attributes of a secure leader or an insecure leader? Perhaps you didn’t need to read the material to discover what type of leader you are. You already knew!
If, like me, you struggle with insecurity, you don’t have to stay that way! You can grow, change, and learn to become a secure leader. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but let me give you some ways to begin to change.
Learn how God views you. Insecurity comes when you see yourself through your eyes instead of God’s. Get a true picture of yourself through His eyes. Post this list of affirmations and Scriptures where you can see them every day. Replace your negative thoughts about yourself with God’s amazing thoughts about you!
- God wants to use you. “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21, NLT).
- You are righteous. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
- You are special. “But you are not like that, for you have been chosen by God himself — you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own — all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were less than nothing; now you are God’s own. Once you knew very little of God’s kindness; now your very lives have been changed by it” (1 Peter 2:9-10, TLB).
- God has a plan for you. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
- You are God’s friend. “This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies and hated him and were separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends. ... Christ has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are standing there before him with nothing left against you” (Colossians 1:21-22, TLB).
- You are chosen. “It is he who saved us and chose us for his holy work not because we deserved it but because that was his plan long before the world began — to show his love and kindness to us through Christ” (2 Timothy 1:9, TLB).
- You can do what God calls you to do. “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power” (Philippians 4:13, TLB).
Spend time with secure leaders and friends. Insecure people tend to congregate with other insecure people. That’s the opposite of what you need to do. It may go against your natural tendencies at first, but spending time with secure people will ultimately make you feel more secure. Secure leaders don’t compete with you. They don’t push you down to build themselves up. They don’t respond to your victories by sharing their bigger victories. They celebrate with you. They want to see you succeed, advance, and grow.
As you spend time with leaders and friends who are settled enough in their own sense of self to work and live alongside you without competition or comparison, you’ll feel energized and empowered to do the same.
Recognize when your reactions are based on insecurity. If your reactions to people or situations are based on insecurity, learn to recognize that and practice positive self-talk. Tell yourself the truth! No book, program, or seminar will help you build lasting security; in fact, Paul said, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, NLT). Read Scriptures that tell you how God sees you. Allow what He says about you to inform your opinion of yourself.
Spend more time with God. As Jude instructed, “But you, dear friends, must build up your lives ever more strongly upon the foundation of our holy faith, learning to pray in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you” (Jude 20-21, TLB). There’s a wonderful peace that comes in His presence. The more time you spend praying, reading your Bible, and worshipping, the more secure you’ll feel.
Embrace God’s plan for your life. Not your plan. Not your parent’s plan. Make it your aim to please God. His plan is the best one for your life. Receive the truth that “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT). God has designed work especially for you. Embrace His plan and follow it with everything you have!
Paul’s wholehearted embrace of God’s plan for his life is a good model for us to follow. He told the Philippian believers, “I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better” (Philippians 1:20-21, NLT). Whether living or dying, Paul was determined to complete the work God had called him to do.
God has a good plan for you, too!
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Called to Serve, the Assemblies of God Ministers Letter.