Too often people equate the concept of vulnerability with weakness and think that, by revealing potential shortcomings, a leader becomes less impactful. The opposite is actually true. It takes tremendous confidence and strength to admit that you don’t have all the answers.
When we speak about vulnerability in terms of leadership, it isn’t about rendering yourself weak or defenseless but rather opening yourself up to:
- Information that might challenge your beliefs
- Good ideas, regardless of where they come from
- Passing the credit
Leaders who embrace vulnerability understand that there is always room for growth. Even world-class athletes have coaches and continue training to improve their skills. Likewise, even leaders at the very top of their game still seek to develop their abilities and understanding.
What Vulnerability Looks Like
Vulnerable leaders don’t need to be right all the time. Instead, they need to be open and committed to bringing about the best result. As we wrote in our book, Would You Work For You? – The Quest: Discovering the Leader Within, “All of us have vulnerability. It comes with being human. By concealing your vulnerabilities, you’re essentially denying a major part of the real and authentic you from showing up.”
One of the most powerful positions in the world is that of the President of the United States. People in this role have tremendous power to shape current events and influence lives across the globe. And yet, an effective president does not need to be a pillar of strength at every moment. They might show up at a disaster area and give someone a hug. They might listen to the struggles of someone in a difficult situation. They might share a personal story or acknowledge their own challenges. And, they might frequently turn to others for input, perspective, and advice.
A leader who does these things is allowing themselves to be seen as human. They’re sending a message that they’re invested in learning and growing, working on self-improvement, and open to ideas that might challenge their current thinking. By doing so, they’re better able to inspire, influence, and connect with the people they serve.
Getting Comfortable with Discomfort
The problem with vulnerability is that it isn’t easy. Incorporating it takes practice and can feel downright risky and unsettling at times. Quoting again from our book, “This path requires a strength of confidence, ego, and personality. I know very few leaders who feel good when their ideas or authority appear to be openly challenged.”
Many leaders prefer to fight back when challenged. They’d rather argue on behalf of their experience and knowledge or exercise their authority and impose their will.
It’s harder to respond thoughtfully, without taking offense, but doing so sends a powerful message to your team. They’ll realize that you value outcomes above your own ego. They’ll understand that the work environment is one where people are empowered to speak truth to authority and share ownership.
Nurture and Support the Growth of the Team
Practicing vulnerability is a commitment to personal growth, but that commitment also needs to radiate outward. Invest in the growth of the people you serve. Be patient in supporting their journeys, because sometimes a little extra time and patience is exactly what’s needed for someone to flourish.
Being authentic with your team members also strengthens relationships, builds trust within the group, and leads to improved collaboration and engagement. Team members are encouraged to show up as their true selves, value honesty, and know that their ideas will be heard when they work with a leader who is committed to practicing vulnerability.
“The great leaders are not the strongest, they are the ones who are honest about their weaknesses. The great leaders are not the smartest; they are the ones who admit how much they don’t know. The great leaders can’t do everything; they are the ones who look to others to help them. Great leaders don’t see themselves as great; they see themselves as human.” — Simon Sinek, author
Want to learn how to develop your leadership language and effectively engage the people you serve? Download our free eBook now.
Author, Speaker, and Change Agent.
Chris leads a dynamic team of passionate change agents who are dedicated to partnering with organizational executives to create cultures that inspire, engage and ignite the best in people. Our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.