Money Matters

Doing These 9 Things Make You Look Noticeably Insecure. Here’s How to Stop


Researchers at the University of Melbourne are one of many groups to have proven a very direct link between self-confidence and success. So why on earth would you broadcast to your organization when you’re feeling insecure?

You might be doing just that as a leader (but don’t realize it). Here are nine things that scream insecurity. Catch yourself in the act and shut it down.

1. Not deciding.

Consistently putting off decisions for whatever reason usually puts off the people counting on those decisions. It signals that you’re worried about making the wrong call and smacks of insecurity. And it might literally be the opposite of career enhancing. I recently wrote about a 10-year CEO study that pinpointed decisiveness as the most important thing tied to high-performance.

To help me remain decisive, I always tried to consider the risks/costs of not deciding and set time-bound parameters for making the call.

2. Constantly seeking approval.

The struggle for approval is an empty victory at best and confidence eroding/soul-crushing at worst. The quest is insatiable and can be spotted a mile away by employees who are instead looking for role-models of self-belief.

This is something I had to work on in my corporate days, which I did so by constantly reminding myself to strive for authenticity over approval. 

3. Creating rework.

Creating the need to do work twice is literally the opposite of fostering meaningful work.  Quite often insecurity is at the core as the requestor wants to “cover their bases” or show up as perfect–neither of which are good enough reasons for a re-do.

I had a boss who stopped re-work by asking “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” before taking on new work and then asking for a clear brief for the work if it was. It worked like a charm.

4. Not granting autonomy.

I conducted a combination of surveys and interviews among 1000 executives and found that the number one reason for not granting autonomy was the desire to maintain control, the root of which was insecurity–a desire to not look bad or to appear like they didn’t know what was going on.

I also interviewed employees of bosses known for hoarding control. 80 percent of the employees viewed the lack of autonomy as a sign of insecurity.

5. Letting fear of failure show up.

Fear among executives has become so common that there’s a name for it–the imposter syndrome–or the fear of being found an incompetent failure. The problem is that this fear can manifest itself into the realization of the very thing the leader is afraid of. Roger Jones, a consulting firm CEO, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that the behavior cascades down into a host of other dysfunctional behaviors and may be the purest form of insecurity that can be witnessed.

One of the most powerful ways to overcome a fear of failure is to remember there are actually only three ways to fail: when we quit, don’t improve, or never try.

6. Not pushing back or asking for help.

The most disabling boss I ever had was afraid to push back on his chain of command and didn’t want to appear weak by asking for help. Contrast that to my most enabling boss who made it a point to push back on things that would clearly be unhelpful to the team and turned asking for help into a strength by articulating very specific asks that demonstrated a depth of understanding of the business.

7. Shying away from debate.

While debate can be uncomfortable at times and is seen as better avoided by those insecure enough to worry about looking foolish, it’s a critical part of producing consistently high-quality work. 

The best way through this is to practice engaging in debate and letting the counterpoints raise interest rather than hackles or hesitancy.

8. You compare (and feel bad) and criticize (and feel worse).

Constant comparison to others is a hallmark of the insecure and ends in feeling inferior.  The only comparison that matters is the one between you today versus yesterday; are you a better version of yourself today, or not?  That’s what matters. 

And when you criticize others (and feel horrible about doing so later) it’s a classic sign of compromised self-esteem–lifting yourself up by putting others down. It’s like firing a flare gun of insecurity.

9. Way too much humble-bragging.

Over-promoting your strengths and accomplishments is a sure sign that in truth you feel inadequate and are trying to convince yourself of your awesomeness. It’s cool to toot your horn now and then–it’s when it becomes a horn section in an orchestra that people look at you as the conductor of the un-confident. 

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