#12 Insecure Leaders

This week’s newsletter issue is inspired by a story by Hans Christian Anderson. I recently re-discovered. If you’re not aware, he is a Danish writer famous for writing children’s literature. Most of his stories and poems have a healthy balance of light and dark subjects and convey important moral life lessons which makes them ideal for children to read.

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short story by him that conveys an important lesson about insecure leaders and challenging the status quo. In this story, no one dared to speak the truth as they are scared of appearing unfit for their positions. Except for a little child who wasn’t afraid because he had no position to lose and when he said it, everyone joined him as if they were waiting to let it out.

“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said. “Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said his father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on”, a child says. “But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

One of the things that successful leaders have in common is that they want to take feedbacks and are constantly seeking to change and improve. The emperor in this story was insecure and fearful which lead to his ministers being insecure as well. It’s hard to challenge someone superior to you even if they are wrong. But ultimately change is absolutely necessary, especially in the cases where the leaders are wrong themselves.

John Lubans, Jr. is known for his relatively short yet informative essays on leading and leadership. Here’s an excerpt from his book, Library Administration & Management describing the insecure leader –

“Some highly insecure bosses can be decisive and seemingly effective; they are successful at masking the most visible of their insecurities. And if they are in a tradition-bound business with low expectations for innovation, they can be seen as “successful.” However, over time, the less-secure boss tends to develop a largely reactive organization because, in my experience, he employs acquiescent people and avoids independent thinkers.”

I found the last line of this passage particularly interesting, “He employs acquiescent people and avoids independent thinkers”. Acquiescent people are mere puppets nodding at everything the leader says. Hiring them is rather ineffective for the organization as there’s no constructive feedback when all employees agree to everything the leader says. Insecure leaders are biased towards them as they need people to confirm their actions whilst they’re unsure about it themselves.

The emperor cared too much about what people had to say about him and his clothes. Effective leaders are confident within themselves and learn from their mistakes. “Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best from themselves and others.”