The vulnerable leader

Confidence in leadership is an important, if not essential ingredient to effectively lead others. It has a trickle-down effect, inspiring confidence in staff and allows staff to build trust in their leaders and their convictions. In fact, a business without a confident leader, would fail. Employees would lose faith, lack confidence themselves and become de-motivated. However, there’s a growing acceptance of the fact that leaders also need to be seen to be open-hearted, honest and up-front in times of uncertainty and not just run with the façade of unwavering confidence at all times.

Time to get real and embrace vulnerability  

Businesses don’t generally embrace vulnerability, particularly amongst those in leadership positions. Historically, vulnerability has been aligned with weakness and the school of thought has been that leaders and managers ought to avoid showing any signs of vulnerability as it will lead to a lack of confidence in staff and possibly even open leadership up to attack and even anarchy.

However, in our modern world where there is a growing emergence of self-awareness and acceptance of emotions, there are many thought leaders actually pioneering for leaders and managers to show more vulnerability to their employees. On a personal level, leaders who openly show their vulnerability can inspire others, build rapport and support for a cause, and strengthen the relationship they have with their staff.

Brene Brown, author of the best-selling book Daring Greatly claims that it takes courage to be openly vulnerable, and vulnerability is transformative to your relationships, taking them to a much deeper and more meaningful level. Without showing your vulnerable side, leaves your relationships with others shallow and lacking meaningful connection, which is not congusive to growing employee engagement and motivation. As Brown says “Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness”. Brown points out that vulnerability being a weakness is a myth and that vulnerability is simply part of being human, to feel is to be vulnerable. Our rejection of vulnerability in leadership, arises from the association we have with it being a negative emotion, when it is actually the “birthplace of belonging, joy, courage and empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity.”

As I have touched on before, in the right doses and without appearing as an unhinged emotional wreck to your team, it is healthy for your work relationships to show others that you are a human being with human feelings. In times of uncertainty, rather than embracing false confidence in your convictions, it is more valuable to admit that you in fact are worried, that you don’t have all the answers, or that you are disappointed in outcomes. People want to see your human side, and as humans, we can only build rapport with people when we can relate to them on a human to human level. We instinctively want to reach out and help others when we see they are feeling vulnerable, because we ourselves feel that way. In times of uncertainty within an organisation then, you are more likely to get the backing and engagement of your team by admitting your concern than by covering up your own uncertainty with fake optimism or confidence.

Taking the first step to showing your vulnerability.

Here’s the thing. To most leaders, being able to show confidence is very important and somewhat easy to most. On the other hand, being able to be open and honest with your vulnerabilities and weaknesses is also important, but more difficult to put into practice. It can be out of the comfort zone of leaders, particularly if you still think of vulnerability as a weakness. It’s time to suck it up, take a deep breath and plunge into the deep.

I would recommend a great starting point, is to let people know when you don’t know the answer, when you are not sure, or unclear of what to say or how to answer a question. Simply responding with an “I am not sure” or “I don’t know” shows that you are not only a leader, but a human who, at times, mirrors the same feelings of uncertainty as the people you lead.

It takes courage to expose our feelings, and while the workplace is not an environment whereby you want to expose your deepest darkest fears and insecurities, showing somevulnerability will undoubtedly build rapport and deepen your connections. This in turn will build staff engagement and increase overall productivity. It’s not a weakness, it’s being real, it’s a leadership tactic worth embracing.

Would you like to help your leadership team embrace the courage to show their vulnerabilities? I can help with my leadership training and custom workshops. Get in touch today.

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