Security and Leadership: A Quality Worth Cultivating

Research indicates that a felt sense of security predicts leader efficacy. Security, in this context, refers to a quality of the person, as when we say “He is insecure.” But what is it that we mean to say about the person to whom we attribute this quality?

When people say this in the workplace, I believe they’re usually observing that a person is behaving in ways that suggest he's compensating (covering) for a felt sense of insecurity. He may seem to be asserting more confidence or more competence that he truly feels or possesses. Why? Because he wants very much to be seen as a confident, competent, and capable leader. He wants to be respected, to have his authority recognized. It’s a kind of security/insecurity that speaks to his maturity in role.

Although there are a variety of situations in which an individual may be at risk of losing his sense of security, it’s also the case that we all carry within us a more basic baseline level of security. It stems from early life experience, which taught us that we can (or cannot) speak up, disclose our true feelings, and acknowledge our vulnerabilities without fear of being harshly judged. Thus, acting from a base of felt security means we feel free to be transparent, to reveal our true thoughts and feelings.

This felt security is seen by others as conveying self-confidence, openness, a capacity for more readily owning our mistakes and confessing our felt concerns (insecurities). When leaders, and those who offer leadership less formally, convey these qualities of security, we experience them as more sincere and authentic. Their assertions, attitudes, behaviors, and actions seem congruent. That gives us reason to trust them. We believe that if they can be “real” with us, we too can be real, it’s safe.   

Imagine, then, how much an achieved state of basic security adds to our presence as leaders. Imagine how much it would help us regain composure, perspective, and a readiness to adaptively engage during periods of peak challenge. Further, imagine how this capacity for such resilience and adaptation would serve as a positive model to those we lead and those with whom we collaborate. Finally, consider how good we should feel knowing that growth and development in this area of leadership is possible. 

How? It all begins with an assessment-based approach to development pursued within the context of a highly competent professional relationship. Just as we acquired the tendencies we now have through relationships early in life, we can cultivate new ways of being, feeling, and relating to others through appropriate helping relationships in our contemporary life situation. The relational context is the crucible within which important growth and learning of this kind occurs. 

Security, and other Personal Qualities (which are assessed in the Leader Identity Questionnaire™) underlie and affect (help/hinder) our abilities to realize the more specific performance-related competencies defined in our companies' competency models and implied in our job descriptions. Remember, it’s the person who must enact these competencies. It is within the person that we cultivate the attitude, maturity, values, and motivation to adopt and deploy competent leadership action.  

We are, therefore, the vehicle of our growth as leaders. Our identity continues to form and evolve in response to our efforts to take on new roles in life. The depth, richness, and impact of our identity as leaders is dependent upon the quality of these efforts.

Contact Info:

You are invited to contact the author directly with questions or comments. He can be reached at or phone at 401.885.1631.