Vulnerability is defined as a willingness to show emotions or to allow one’s weakness to be seen or known; the willingness to risk being hurt or attacked. Contrary to some beliefs, the omnipotent leaders are not always the one’s that can guide their organizations through turbulent and uncertain times. Rather, the most effective leader may be the person(s) who are ready, willing and able to show their vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability has quickly become a crucial leadership quality, one a leader must have in order to succeed in todays business world. When leaders show their vulnerability they open themselves up to be judged by others which places them at risk for feeling shame and embarrassment and both are powerful emotions. However, the more a leader knows of themselves to be worthy, regardless of their flaws, the less power shame and embarrassment has over them. Vulnerable leaders are aware that they make mistakes and in doing so they will be judged and be a topic of conversation.
Several writers and researchers have done a marvellous job in in writing about vulnerable leadership; Kelsey Borresen, Brene Brown and Simon Sinek to name a few and all have drawn a similar conclusion; vulnerability is not a weakness, it is a strength that creates a space for leaders to let others into their head. As a leader, it’s important to remember that your people usually know if something is not working. They just want to know whether you have the courage to tell them.
Dr. Brene Brown, (Sociologist, University of Texas) speaks to and conducts research in leadership vulnerability and her findings are astonishing. Her work explains that we all struggle with things in our lives and sharing them is not a sign of weakness, it’s actually an incredibly powerful method of building trust and confidence.
Some of the most successful leaders show their vulnerabilities to themselves and others by admitting that they are wrong or they may not know the answers to specific challenges while having reservations about problems facing them today. They may also be somewhat pragmatic in their approach leading them to inadvertently test the patience of others. It begins by going out of your comfort zone and engaging others in the journey of self improvement. Organizations and their people are far better off when their leaders take the bold step to embracing the truth by understanding the reality of situations as opposed to being right and not accepting reality.
What can leaders do to cultivate a more vulnerable style of leadership? Here are some suggestions:
Be honest with your people.
Leaders ought to be honest with themselves and others. Leadership honesty creates the foundation for a team of employees to work together, united in the same true sacrifice, helping each other to attain personal and corporate goals in order to be successful.
A strong organization much like personal relationships are based on honesty and no leader can afford to be dishonest with themselves, their employees or clients. To treat people equally – you have to treat them differently, because they are. Honesty is the foundation of integrity.
A leader, first and foremost, is human.Only when we have the strength to show our vulnerability can we truly lead.Simon Sinek
Tell the truth.
Vulnerable leaders share their candid perspective with others about what they know, what they think they know and what they don’t know. It is much more expedient and easier to tell people what they want to hear however, the best leaders tell the truth no matter how problematic that may be. When leaders are clear about the challenges ahead they help their team understand. Being open and honest about your weakness as a leader is a sign of strength and integrity.
Ask for help.
Asking for help will make teams stronger and it will make a leader stronger. Leadership is not about being the hero nor is it about being in charge. Leadership is unlocking the forces that bring employees together as a team in order to increase employee commitment by creating energy and unleashing ideas to tackle the challenges at hand.
When you make a mistake, admit it.
Amy Edmondson (Professor of Leadership & Management at Harvard) talks about admitting and apologizing for mistakes. She says that when leaders take this approach, people appreciate the honesty and trust no matter how disappointed they may be in hearing it. Amy states that the short term sense of invincibility that a leader may experience when refraining from admitting mistakes is usually short lived and delusional. Failure on behalf of a leader to admit that they are wrong will lead others to question the leaders self awareness, judgment and character when the truth becomes evident.
Moving outside the comfort zone.
One thing that leaders are reluctant to do is to go out of their comfort zone. Unfamiliarity causes performance to suffer and their vulnerability is exposed short term. What some leaders fail to realize is that operating outside the comfort zone will make you a better leader because you are learning new skills. Leading within your comfort zone leads to stagnation and a loss of a learning opportunity.
One of the reasons so many people fail to develop into highly effective leaders is that they stagnate and operate on autopilot, self – perpetuating their habits and repeating what has worked in the past.Thomas Chamorro – Premuzic
A number of leaders that I coach and consult with are not very good communicators. They do not make communication a priority and they assume that people just know. In my experience this can be a recipe for disaster. As we engage others in the journey of self awareness and self improvement, feedback is pivotal to our overall leadership success. Helping your team members advance their knowledge and skill set will improve leadership skills and allow others to share their knowledge.
When leaders communicate with team members they are vulnerable. Leaders will naturally hear negative feedback and may translate that feedback to a personal attack. The mind set must be – it isn’t personal, its business. Leaders must remain calm, dig deeper to understand and ask questions that spark a deeper conversation. This allows the leader to be comfortable with uncomfortable moments and have constructive conversations about feelings and emotions.
A vulnerable leadership style in a world of extreme uncertainty, interdependence and complexity is vital in making progress when answers are not apparent. In a number of cases what we’ve done in the past isn’t applicable and exogenous factors affect the way forward. Others in our organization may be able to contribute vital knowledge and ideas and a vulnerable leader will be able to tap that opportunity. Vulnerable leaders keep their people close and let them know that they care.
About The Author.
Nicholas Pollice is President of The Pollice Management Consulting Group located in Niagara, Ontario, Canada. An international presenter and consultant, he is known as a leader in operations management. Nicholas conducts programs in leadership, supervision, communication, negotiation and conflict resolution. He has been a consultant since 1989 and is the author of several professional publications. His presentations have been consistently ranked in the top10 % throughout North America. See Nicholas’ bio, his other publications and services on the PMCG. Website at www.pollicemanagement.com