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Insecure Leaders Point Blame Everywhere but Themselves

There are many opinions as to what constitutes effective leadership, something that I have written about extensively over the years. However, my perspective is just from one lens. I often pose a question on what is it that great leaders do in the workshops I facilitate, and many consistent characteristics emerge. Some of the top responses where there is consensus include communicate, listen, innovate, have a vision, risk-taking, and focus on relationships. It is tough to argue that any of these are not necessary when it comes to successfully implementing change. Success, however, lies in a leader's confidence and execution to move people where they need to be through empowerment.

Great leaders who empower those they work with are confident. Poor ones are insecure. Lolly Daskal wrote a fascinating article highlighting the characteristics that embody the insecure leader. She identified the following seven characteristics:
  • Shying away from challenges
  • Positioning yourself to look good
  • Aversion to helping others grow
  • Disrespect for others
  • Being a know-it-all
  • Staying behind a closed door
  • Refusing to handle conflicts


After reading the article, I reflected on a story that an educator recently shared with me. The gist of it was about a statement that was made by his principal, where a shot was taken at the predecessor. During a meeting with the staff to open up the new school year a statement was made something to this effect (disclosure – I am not using the real name), "I am not going to throw many things up against the wall like Mr. Smith did and see what sticks." Not a very motivational way to open up the school year, in my opinion. What was more troubling was how the statement made the educator and his colleagues feel as the consensus was that the statement portrayed the principal's lack of ability to implement his own agenda. Comments like this that either place blame or undermine previous administrators bring to light leadership insecurities.

A confident leader would not have made a statement like that. The story above falls into the know-it-all and disrespect category. Here are som of Daskal's thoughts.
Insecure leaders are petrified of coming across as insignificant or incompetent, so they overcompensate by pretending they know it all. They rarely ask questions--and when they do, they almost never wait for the answer.

When you're insecure, you work hard to gain respect for yourself--sometimes even by belittling others to put yourself ahead. If you feel inadequate, disrespecting others can help elevate your own status. 
The bottom line here is that insecure leaders point blame everywhere but themselves. If change doesn't stick or is not embraced by staff, the insecure leader then passes the blame to others both internally and externally.  Needless to say, this is not healthy for school culture. How a leader deals with a lack of confidence speaks volumes about his or her ability to inspire, motivate, and empower staff as well as to lead sustainable change. There are practical ways to build confidence. The Vantage Consulting blog highlights the following dispositions that leaders should practice to accomplish a confidence boost:

  • Courage
  • Humility
  • Teachableness
  • Clarity
  • Engaging conflict
  • Being a facilitator of others' success 


When it is all said and done, the buck stops with the leader. Confident leaders help to build the confidence of the staff. When times get tough, it's easy to point the blame elsewhere. Real leaders own their culture, for better or for worse. If it is the latter, then they take the needed actions to get the ship right.

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