6 Signs you’re working with an Insecure Boss

Working with an insecure boss can be difficult, stressful and downright annoying! Apprehensive managers demotivate staff and may even force good workers out of the organization. Their insecurities can breed paranoia, lack of trust and eventually eat away at the harmony of any team. An insecure manager will refuse to mentor their direct reports and may even try to create doubt and lack of confidence in their team in order to reduce some imaginary threat. It’s no fun and makes team members want to jump ship ASAP. If you’re experiencing difficulty working with your boss and are wondering why, it may be a self-esteem issue on their part. Here are some clues to help you figure out whether or not you’re dealing with an insecure boss and if possible, how to work around it:

  1. Your boss consistently embarrasses you in public

A tell-tale sign of an insecure boss is one that feels the need to constantly embarrass you in public. Whether it’s via email or in person, in a business meeting or social situation, you are always the target. They might make insensitive jokes at your expense or use extreme sarcasm when speaking with you. Regardless of what it is, it’s rude and has no place in a professional setting.

The best way to tackle this is to confront the matter head on. You can try to arrange a meeting, but don’t be surprised of your insecure boss avoids meeting 1-on-1. They probably love an audience but try to speak with them alone anyway. Make it clear that you don’t appreciate their behavior and snide remarks. They’ll attempt to accuse you of being overly sensitive and make weak excuses for their behavior. Stand your ground. Regardless of how things end in your conversation, document everything just in case things need to be escalated to HR or someone higher up on the food chain.

  1. Your boss disagrees with every new suggestion or idea without providing helpful feedback

The last thing a fearful, self-doubting manager wants is a subordinate who is smarter than they are so they will pick apart every suggestion or idea you come up with without providing helpful feedback. Their criticism will be anything but constructive. They will find something wrong with everything you do or say in an attempt to bring you down to their insecure level. Don’t you fall for this trick! Hold fast to your confidence. Chances are they wish they came up with it and may even try to steal your idea.

Go above their head. Work your influential magic on their boss and try to get their buy-in. This may certainly ruffle their feathers, but that’s their problem. They forced your hand.

  1. Your boss discredits your education and abilities

If your boss always takes verbal jabs at your education or abilities this is a clear sign that they’re lacking confidence. Maybe you have an advanced degree they wish they had. Perhaps you’re learning a lot at a fast pace and it’s making them nervous. Perhaps they’re afraid you’ll surpass them and are doing everything in their power to hold you back. Don’t be deterred by this. Continue to learn and grow. In time, you will either surpass them truly or find something better somewhere else. Either way, you’ll be much happier.

  1. Your boss keeps you in the dark yet insists on knowing everything you’re doing

An insecure boss is incredibly paranoid, always worried that you’re doing something behind their back so they will micro-manage you to death!

They will insist on being copied on every email, will “casually” walk by your work-space when you’re on the phone attempting to listen in. They will creep up behind you trying to take a peek at your computer screen because they’re convinced you’re doing something that will negatively impact them. They will also go to extra lengths to keep you in the dark on everything. They will share minimal information, if they share anything at all and respond defensively when you try to gather any additional details. They believe they’re keeping you at a disadvantage this way making them feel better about themselves. It makes them feel smarter and more knowledgeable.

The only way to deal with this is to beat them to the punch. Offer to copy them on emails before they can ask. Also, find other ways to gather the information you need. Network internally and have other resources your boss doesn’t know about. If your boss gets wise and starts asking where you got your information from, don’t give away anything specific. Keep your responses vague. Remember that it takes a smart person to play dumb.

  1. Your boss avoids giving you the pay increase you know you deserve

One of the biggest reasons your boss may start to feel insecure is your level of pay is getting dangerously close to theirs. Many bosses like making lots more than those who report in to them so they will find ways to avoid granting annual increases, bonuses or raises you deserve. It’s unethical, immoral… just plain wrong!

This is something you can attempt to discuss directly but don’t be surprised if that doesn’t get you far. There are a number of different ways you can try to fight this, but unless you can provide solid evidence that there is something fishy going on, you may have to simply count your losses and plan your exit.

  1. Your boss regularly threatens your position or tries to talk you into voluntarily leaving the company

A highly insecure manager will be obsessed with saving their own hide. If they think that getting rid of you will do that, then that is what they will focus on doing. They may arrange meetings disguised as something else then spend the entire time trying to get you to resign. They may tell you that no one wants you there and try to convince you that you’d be better off outside the organization. They may even offer to help you find a job elsewhere.

They may threaten you indirectly, beginning their sentences with phrases like, “It’s not like your job is on the line, but…” These are threats and signals that let you know they’d like to see you leave.

Insecure bosses who act this way are blind to how others perceive them. They believe they appear strong when they actually appear rude and confrontational. Managers blinded to their own insecurities don’t realize the message this behavior sends. They’re essentially showing their staff that as a manager; they are dishonest, defensive, angry and unapproachable – in short, a BAD manager. The worse part about this kind of behavior is that it spreads! It can be like a cancer infecting those who feel that this is the way to behave. Younger colleagues or new hires seeking a mentor may adopt these bad habits thinking that this is the way to fit into their new work environment. Soon enough this can poison the entire atmosphere creating an unhealthy and toxic work environment that nobody really wants to work in.

While surviving your nightmare boss, you should be working on an exit strategy. Someone as brilliant as you will always have options and should begin exploring them as soon as possible. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Develop your personal brand and market yourself accordingly. Get out there and build your network. Think about what your ideal work environment looks like and start doing your research, targeting opportunities that meet your needs.

You don’t have to stay where you do not belong.


Hi, my name is Pamela Shand and I want the best for you in your career. I started Offer Stage Consulting to show job seekers how to overcome the most annoying challenges and get where they want to be in their careers. It is possible to actually be happy at work!

Let me show you how.

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