How Fear and Insecurity Drive Success in Leadership: The Triad of Success

Understanding the complex layers of leadership has always been a nuanced endeavor. In exploring our experiences and various success stories, a fascinating pattern emerged.  An article in the NY Times made it very clear.  This pattern defies the typical narrative of confidence and bravado.  The big takeaway is that it is not just confidence and competence that help people succeed, but the interplay of feelings of superiority, insecurity, and the relentless search for feedback and validation that surprisingly drives leadership success.

The Surprising Role of Superiority in Leadership

Contrary to what one might expect, a pronounced sense of superiority is often the first common denominator among successful groups. This type feeling of superiority isn’t about arrogance; it’s a deeply rooted belief in one’s potential to excel and take risks. They know what they are capable of and bring it to the table. While this trait, if left unchecked, could spiral into narcissism, it’s the combination with two other traits that refines it, transforming superiority into a catalyst for growth and achievement. It’s a prime example of how fear and insecurity drive success in leadership by compelling leaders to take action while remaining self-aware.

Insecurity as a Motivational Force

The second trait is a palpable layer of insecurity—a fear of not measuring up. This fear acts as a safeguard against complacency and reckless action. It pushes leaders to meticulously assess risks and consider the consequences of failure. Insecurity could potentially cripple ambition, but when harnessed, it sharpens decision-making and instills a humility that tempers their self-perceived superiority. This is how fear and insecurity drive success in leadership, by ensuring leaders remain grounded and prepared to pivot as necessary.

The Strategic Pursuit of Feedback

Finally, the third trait is a strategic and relentless pursuit of feedback. This is not just about seeking validation but recognizing that success is a marathon, not a sprint. Persistent adaptability and a continuous loop of feedback are essential in navigating the long road ahead. Alone, this trait could lead to an over-reliance on others’ opinions. Yet, when synergized with a sense of superiority and insecurity, it propels leaders toward tenacious, sustained effort.

The Mastery of Balancing Traits for Leadership Excellence

Our results of 360 assessment, and in this particular study,  have revealed a compelling commonality among the most successful leaders: they see themselves as less effective than others perceive them. This level of insecurity, rooted in the fear of not being good enough, compels them to push harder. It clearly illustrates how fear and insecurity drive success in leadership, keeping even the most intelligent and accomplished leaders striving for continuous improvement.

Leaders who excel understand that the path to achievement is a constant journey of self-evaluation and recalibration, the essence of resilience. The dynamic interplay of superiority, insecurity, and the pursuit of feedback—each grounded in a fear of not being good enough—creates a powerful formula for sustained success. While each trait alone could lead to pitfalls, it is their combination that forms the cornerstone of what I call ‘ordinary resilience.’

The mastery of this delicate balance distinguishes truly exceptional leaders and shows us how fear and insecurity drive success in leadership. By embracing these traits and understanding their complex roles, leaders can harness their fears and channel them into a relentless drive for excellence.

 

Luis Velasquez MBA, PhD

Luis is a leadership coach, employee engagement expert, and management trainer. Formerly a University professor and research scientist, Luis holds a dual Ph.D. from Michigan State University; and an MBA in Organizational Leadership.

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