The Hidden Opportunity of Insecurity

By Justin Foster

No leader is 100% confident all of the time. Sure, leaders are expected to be confident and certain during pivotal moments, but we also understand that they are human. When rolling challenges arise, fatigue and stress numb the senses, and eventually insecurity begins to emerge. The difference between a great leader and a poor leader is how he or she views insecurity. 

Incomplete leaders let insecurity influence their actions. And the first thing to go when insecurity takes over is the truth. Rather than asking for help or admitting a lack of knowledge, ego kicks in to create a veneer of false perception. For many leaders, this is standard behavior—where title and status quo perpetuate a new “truth” or worse yet, a cover up. 

Instead of masking insecurity, a high-performing leader turns toward it. This leader examines insecurity, knowing that it is nothing but an indicator of an inflated ego, and an opportunity for improvement. 

When you embrace insecurity, you can begin to see it as a chance to reveal a weak spot and to enhance growth. The opposite of insecurity isn’t self-confidence, but instead a type of humility that encourages analysis, improvement and action, Insecurity is also a sign that it is time to listen—to employees, customers and advisors. It can function as an early warning system for improvement and performance.

Here are four ways to use insecurity as a catalyst in your organization:

Use insecurity to grow trust. Humility and vulnerability breed trust. When added to existing factors such as title and status, humility becomes a force multiplier. Instead of fearing exposure, leaders should embrace insecurity to boldly express their own infallibility. When you share these insights with your team, you will develop deeper relationships. 

Allow insecurity to illuminate data. Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, there are damn lies, and there are statistics.” When insecurity is confronted and not hidden by untruths, data can become a revealer of trends, weak spots, and new opportunities. In essence, data is just math and numbers once ego is removed. Use insecurity as an opportunity to take a look at the big picture through evidence.

Let insecurity make authenticity easier. Many leaders struggle mightily with being authentic, which can be a form of ego inflation as a reaction to insecurity. Great leaders aren’t afraid to show their messiness. They talk about their failures. They publicly kill off ideas that don’t work. Allow your insecurity to illuminate your reality, and don’t allow a lack of self-confidence to make you put on airs.

Help insecurity tell the truth. Leaders who challenge their own insecurities will naturally challenge them in others. Allow your own truth to be amplified through insecurity, and you will help create a culture of honesty in your organization. When it becomes safe to tell the truth, this will release a collective breath of fresh air—allowing it to be the starting point for every conversation.

Insecurity is an essential part of every leader’s journey. When you embrace the opportunity that lies in insecurity, you will reach new levels of connection to both yourself and to the people you lead. 

Based in Austin, Texas, Justin Foster is a speaker, author and faculty member for The Complete Leader. Justin is the co-founder of the branding firm root + river.