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Jack Dunigan

Quality Insider

Emotional and Psychological Security

Emotionally secure people are not rare, but they are in demand

Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 16:00

Editor’s note: This continues Jack Dunigan’s series about unsung heroes in the workplace, and the 16 traits they all share.

You’ve encountered them, those insecure types who have a point to prove, weight to throw around, and a chip on a shoulder they are just hoping someone will knock off. Remembering that the singular objective for all associates and employees is to solve problems. Their problem-solving skills must always exceed their problem-creating leanings.

This series is laying out those 16 traits that are found in keepers, those not-so-rare individuals who make life better. There are plenty of them around, perhaps most of them are thus. It seems odd to me that so many employers, leaders, and managers keep the less-than-best ones on the rolls. Skill for the job is critical but by no means the only criteria. Yes, I know there are labor laws that must be honored, and having run my own businesses with employees, I know what they are. But the initial probationary period can and should reveal much, so don’t squander that time.

During the early days of my millwork business, I was interviewing potential shop workers. One man came in with impressive credentials. After he left the interview, my business partner revealed that he knew the man having worked with him earlier. It seems that the man’s ability is beyond question. However, my business partner explained that within one hour in the shop he would have everyone in there angry at him and each other. The guy’s personality was so abrasive he just could not fit in anywhere.

So, why am I telling you this? To encourage you that problem employees can possibly be redeemed. But failing the best efforts of yourself and whatever assistance you can muster, do not hesitate to put the needs of the business or organization ahead of an associate’s obvious need for growth and maturing at best, for therapy at worst.

This has been a recurring theme of mine for decades. The people who join my team are there to:
• Extend my reach
• Multiply my effectiveness
• Divide my work

Anything less can’t be ignored. It is a philosophy and a commitment that has always rewarded me when I follow it and penalized me when I don’t.

This article is about emotional and psychological insecurity. As is often the case, we can see qualities of light when it contrasts with dark, so let’s look at the symptoms of an insecure employee or associate first.
• Lack of confidence. This trait is revealed by a reluctance to venture into new territory. This could be from a fear of failure (see the point that follows), or it could be from fear of success (indicating deeper psychological issues), or it could come from unfortunate past experiences where venture was slapped down.
• Evading responsibility. You often see an employee exhibit this trait when something goes wrong.
• Fear of failure. This is evidenced when an associate takes a failure to heart instead of to mind. You and I know that everyone fails from time to time, but that does not make them a failure. We know that failure keeps our feet on the ground, but it does not and should not bury us under it. We know that failure shows us what will not work. Insecure people take failure to heart and regard themselves as losers. The mere possibility of this provokes all sorts of defensive and evasive mechanisms, well beyond the scope of this post.
• Over-dependency. This is demonstrated by the employee constantly checking in with you to be sure everything is OK. Accountability is one thing, an insecure need for continual positive feedback is another. It indicates either a lack of confidence or a lack of clarity in your expectations.

Not so surprising, insecure employees often don’t act insecure. They can seem confident, even boastful. They can be loud to the point of domination. They can be outspoken and opinionated. They can be Cliff Claven types ready with an answer for questions no one asks or cares about.

William Menninger, co-founder of the Menninger Clinic and the Menninger Foundation, lists these characteristics of an emotionally secure person:
1. Ability to deal constructively with reality
2. Capacity to adapt to change.
3. Few symptoms of tension and anxiety
4. Ability to find more satisfaction in giving than receiving
5. Capacity to consistently relate to others with mutual satisfaction and helpfulness
6. Ability to direct hostile energy into constructive outlets
7. Capacity to love

All of them are important signs of emotional maturity. They have been the subject of volumes of material, so we are free to narrow our focus to the context of working relationships and job performance, particularly working with you as a leader or manager.

First, when associates or employees can confront a problem and respond with more objectivity than subjectivity, they have the ability to deal constructively with reality.

Second, change is constant. Secure associates can manifest whatever skills and attitudes may be mandated by present circumstance and modify them again as the next set of changes emerge. Insecure people retreat into routine and process for security. Secure people find security in their capacity to meet the challenge and adapt as necessary.

Third, aside from the odd and unusual genetic predisposition to ulcers, secure people don’t develop them. They handle problems and change calmly and objectively. Insecure people can’t. One nonprofit I worked with had an extremely capable secretary whose high degree of competence made her a great part of the team. She was, however, fragile in the sense that any variation in the process, however slight, became a big, big deal. Fortunately, she worked in an office completely by herself, which insulated others from her. Anxiety and nervousness have a way of going viral.

Fourth, secure people are contributors. They are team players and consensus builders. They are not users. They do not manipulate others to gain advantage for themselves. They seek advancement for the whole, not the part.

Fifth, they bring others along, share information, show the way, and give assistance without expecting a return.

Sixth, they fight fairly. I do not want to even imply that secure people never disagree. They do, and probably should from time to time. But when they do, they do so constructively. They offer a counter perspective, substantiate it with sound logic, and offer a solution.

Finally, they are people who genuinely care about someone other than themselves. They are just nice people to be around. They are not abrasive and would be missed if they were gone.

Emotionally secure people are not rare, but they are in demand. When you find them and can recruit them, keep them.

The next trait I’ll be writing about is personal and organizational loyalty.


About The Author

Jack Dunigan’s picture

Jack Dunigan

For more than four decades, Jack Dunigan has been leading, consulting, training, and writing. His experience is varied and comprehensive. His training and consulting clients are as varied as the Chief Justice of the Navajo Supreme Court to a top-rated campsite management company. But his advice is not merely academic. His blog, www.ThePracticalLeader.com, is focused on practical advice for leaders and managers of businesses, corporations, nonprofit agencies, families, organizations, departments, anywhere and anytime a person leads others. His latest book is Three Absolutely Necessary, Always Present Skills of an Effective, Successful Leader (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2012).


Point X

< The very qualities that make a poor democratic statesman in peacetime - audacity, fatalism, truthfulness,, fearlessness, initiatve, hatred of compromise, even recklessness - are critical for command of a great egalitarian "army", just as the strengths of a politician - affability, consensus-building, retrospection, manners, inactivity even - can prove lethal on campaign. > Victor. D. Hanson, The Soul of Battle, 2001, page 117. Post Scriptum: about "feeling insecure", I would recommend re-listening to John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" song, or reading its lyrics.