Forward thinking: How insecurity takes its toll

Alexander Hamilton

Insecure people, especially leaders, are like fireworks with a lit fuse. It is only a matter of time until they explode. When they do, they hurt everyone close to them.

As I have reflected on the drawbacks of insecurity in my own life and that of others, once again I found myself focusing on the brilliant, yet flawed American leader – Alexander Hamilton.

It is well documented that Hamilton had an ingenious mind, and he was a forceful and persuasive communicator. Unfortunately, Hamilton was also deeply insecure. He was known to obsess over his personal image, and he launched vicious verbal assaults on anyone who criticized him. If you know anything about his life, you realize that his insecurity literally killed him… unfortunately.

Close scrutiny of Hamilton’s life illustrates the qualities of insecure people, especially those in positions of leadership. During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton’s intelligence and leadership potential caught the eye of George Washington, who handpicked him as his personal aide. In this capacity, Hamilton advised Washington and drafted important reports on the general’s behalf. At the time, Hamilton was barely twenty years old.

Unfortunately, when Washington gave a mild rebuke to the young aide, Hamilton took offense. Washington, probably the most respected man in the original thirteen colonies, tried to smooth over the relationship. However, Hamilton impertinently refused his conciliatory attempts. Though the two maintained a working relationship, Hamilton’s immature actions had alienated a valuable advocate and mentor.

After the United States won its independence, Hamilton played a leading role in the formation of the new American government. He authored a majority of the influential Federalist Papers, supporting ratification of the United States Constitution. In his early 30s, Hamilton became our country’s first Secretary of Treasury. His foresight in managing the nation’s economy helped put the United States on a firm financial.

Hamilton seemed destined for an illustrious political career. Yet, he quickly ran afoul of those who should have been his closest political allies. Case in point, when John Adams was elected President, Hamilton worked behind his back to control government policy. This took place even though both men were members of the same political party. Just as insecurity had undermined his relationship with Washington, it also sabotaged his connection with Adams.

According to biographer Ron Chernow, a “hypersensitive” Hamilton “brooded obsessively about slights to his honor.” This inability to forgive an insult was Hamilton’s undoing. He was shot to death during a duel that he had initiated after taking offense to the actions of fellow politician Aaron Burr.

One does not have to be a leader to be insecure. However, it may be easier to spot or recognize in a leader due to prominence of position. Regardless, insecure people may seem paranoid, mean-spirited, or selfish in a way that defies logic. Oftentimes, however, their insecurity is the result of unhealed hurt.

For instance, Alexander Hamilton’s insecurity can be traced to trauma experienced during his formative years. In the space of five years, Hamilton’s father abandoned him, his mother died, his guardian committed suicide and his aunt, uncle and grandmother passed away. It’s hard to imagine how much all of those tragedies must have impacted him.

Insecurity can be difficult to recognize in ourselves, and it’s near impossible to remedy on our own. Moreover, we almost all have a degree of it. The most urgent need for an insecure person is to seek help from a trusted friend or professional adviser. Through conversation with a trustworthy confident, we can identify areas of insecurity, uncover their roots and begin the process of change.

What are the sources of a leader’s security? Take a moment to reflect on what you think helps a person to lead calmly and confidently without feelings of extreme anxiety and vulnerability.

Better yet, what causes you to experience and feel insecure. Be honest.

More importantly, what are you doing to remedy it?

Until next time…

Loren (1)–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is also a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.

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