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an insecure leader: tell-tale signs your boss is threatened by you

6 min readpublished 17 February 2022updated 15 September 2022
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We’ve collected 10+ signs your boss might feel threatened by you along with recommended coping strategies.

Leadership insecurity is not rare. You may have noticed signs your boss is threatened by you or even wants you to leave, but if you know what makes your boss tick, it is possible to thrive under any kind of leadership.

The list of unmistakable signs your boss feels threatened by you

A confident, competent leader helps everyone on the team to grow because the cumulative strengths of team members drive a company’s success.

Leaders who are less confident, or less skilled, may not realize that it is up to them to create an environment where employees are encouraged to experiment, innovate, and take risks. Instead of making space for employees to initiate and lead, insecure or ineffectual leaders may foster a suppressive and authoritarian culture.

If you find yourself working in a culture where the boss always toots their own horn, takes credit for the team’s work, sucks up to seniors, and routinely humiliates subordinates, it is likely that your boss has significant insecurities.

If you have been in one of these situations, you may have found yourself on the receiving end of one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Your boss talks trash about you to other employees.
  • Your boss disregards your opinion and feedback.
  • Your boss assigns you more work than you can handle, or keeps you busy. with low-level, unimportant tasks.
  • Your boss downplays your efforts and doesn’t acknowledge your accomplishments.
  • Your boss takes credit for work that you did.
  • Your boss avoids meetings with you.
  • Your boss interrupts a connection between top management and you.
  • Your boss threatens your job security in this company or profession.
  • Your boss takes steps to damage your professional reputation.
  • Your boss uses underhanded tactics to force you to quit your job.
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Whether your conflict with your boss is subtle or obvious, it affects job productivity, creates an unhealthy environment, and increases your stress and the risk of burnout. If you feel that something is not right between you and your boss, the only thing you can control is your own actions, so start by making efforts to untangle the situation.

Identify if your boss is insecure

Insecure leaders are afraid to have a member of their team outshine them. If they talk about valuing proactive self-starters and employees who challenge others, they don’t mean it. Instead, they steal good ideas from others and present them as their own.

Insecure leaders don’t like to be challenged, so they are unable and unwilling to create a challenging environment. They want to be surrounded by subordinates who nod and smile and tell them how clever they are. They become uncomfortable around employees who refuse to play along.

Some insecure leaders who have narcissistic tendencies want to be the center of attention; they often expect you to offer up your ideas without receiving any credit because they think it’s your job to do so.

Insecure leaders who rely on tight control for authority want their employees to be submissive and to capitulate on all contested issues. They want to have the last word on everything, and to be told that they are right. Other bosses may just be erratic and inconsistent, so you’re constantly walking on eggshells and don’t know what to expect.

If your boss belongs in any of the above categories, and you’re determined to reconcile with their behavior to keep your job, read on for our recommended coping strategies.

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Apply these 5 coping strategies

Here are tips and recommendations that can work in a wide variety of situations despite the challenges presented by your boss.

Be a team player. Make your boss look good. When you know your boss’s priorities, you can help them get what they want. Be your boss’s go-to player if you can, or even just a friendly force that plays on their team. If you keep the focus on your boss, and add value, they may be less inclined to feel threatened by you.

Keep them informed but without too much detail. Keep your boss in the loop regarding ongoing projects and difficult issues, but without bogging them down or making them feel as if you’re asking them to solve your problems for you. Just present them with the highlights so that they understand the context. Insecure bosses hate to discover that they are the only one in the room without important information.

Be straightforward in a diplomatic and respectful way. You can provide information and opinions to your boss and broach various subjects without being disrespectful. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • “This is just a suggestion, but what if we try...”
  • “It appears that the data says...”
  • “I could be wrong, but maybe…”
  • “I wonder what would happen if we try the X approach.”
  • “Would you like me to explore this option?”

These options show how we can have a straightforward and direct conversation in a way that isn’t threatening to an insecure boss.

Show that you’re trustworthy. Show your boss that they can trust you and you will not only deliver useful insights but will also have their back. If your boss talks to you about something, let them know it’s not going to go beyond that room and that you are going to be supportive of them.

Maintain your values and ethics at the highest level. If you keep that firmly in your mind, your boss may start to do so as well.

Every situation is different, but we hope that applying these recommendations to your unique circumstances may help you make it work. However, if you’ve done everything you could to save the day and your boss just keeps on making your life harder, don’t wait till it becomes a major issue affecting your well-being.

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