For years I was an insecure leader. My greatest fear in leading others was that I would be "found out" and that everyone would see me not as a strong, competent leader but as a bumbling fool. Through the years I've learned that the quest for infallibility is impossible to reach and that making mistakes is part of the growth process. I'm less insecure today because I am more comfortable saying "I don't know" without everyone in the room thinking I'm an incompetent twit. Having said that, I am secure in knowing I will continue to screw up until my Maker calls me home.
For an insecure leader, it all comes down to trust. Insecure leaders are by default distrustful of others and will only let those into their inner circle after trust has been earned. You could be the best performer in the leader's organization but if he or she doesn't trust you then you're always going to be operating on the fringes with the leader and will likely have a stressful relationship. Unfortunate, yes; but that's the fact Jack. You need to accept and embrace it.
So okay, you've accepted and embraced the fact you work with an insecure leader. What next? Here are eight specific things to consider in better securing a good working relationship with the leader:
Don't overdraw in the feedback bank account - Insecure leaders need to hear that they are doing some things right. When presenting feedback to the leader, start things off with something positive before raising constructive feedback. The spoonful of sugar will truly help the medicine go down better for the leader.
Don't dump problems - If you have a difficult issue you need help with don't dump it on the leader's doorstep. Clearly articulate the issue and present some alternatives to how you and the leader can resolve the problem together. Dumping the problem can put insecure leaders on edge because they may now feel as if they are being tested.
Criticize in private - Publicly criticizing or embarrassing an insecure leader puts the leader in a "fight or flight" situation and can severely damage your relationship with the leader. Save the negative feedback for a private session.
Don't suck up - A savvy leader will see sucking up as insincere. In addition, other team members will resent you if you are viewed as a brown-noser in it for personal gain.
Allow the leader to teach - Being insecure doesn't necessarily mean the leader is incompetent. Find something you can learn from the leader and become a student of the leader's viewpoint. Being less than open to learning something from the leader may suggest a problem with your attitude versus purely a problem with the leader.
Understand the leader's communication style - Some leaders truly are "open door" while others prefer scheduled appointments. Some prefer verbal discussion while others like written emails. Understand how the leader likes to communicate and stick to his or her style. Also beware of the leader who says the politically-correct "my door is always open" but seems annoyed if someone barges in. Keep your ear to the railroad track and understand how the leader truly likes to communicate.
Don't compromise your principles and values - learning how to work with an insecure leader doesn't mean blindly following whatever the leader asks you to do. If an insecure leader asks you to do something against your principles be very clear in articulating your objection and why you are objecting.
My one nugget to you is this: recognize you work for an insecure leader, embrace it, and decide you're going to make the best of the situation. It will not only yield a better working relationship with your leader, it will also reduce your stress level.