Vulnerability in leadership is being talked about a lot these days. And in many cases, it is still viewed as something to be avoided. When I ask an audience what word comes to mind when I say “vulnerability,” 100% of the time, I hear them say, “weakness.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What should come to mind is “courage” because leaders with the courage to be vulnerable drive connection with their teams and increase influence with those around them.
What Vulnerability is and What it is Not
Being vulnerable as a leader is about being open with others about your need for help, admitting you do not have all the answers, and accepting you are not the answer to every problem. It is NOT about sharing your every weakness and fault. Vulnerable leaders are authentic. They are human. They are real.
I learned the lesson of vulnerability when my son, as a young teenager, made a mistake that I did not think he should have made. When I asked him why he did not come talk with me about it, he said it was difficult to share shortcomings because I did not make mistakes. How could he possibly think this? Maybe because that is how I presented myself to him and others. When I noticed my sales team hiding their mistakes and struggles, I realized I had a similar problem as a leader. They viewed me as a “Superman” who had no struggles or issues. How hilarious is that?
Sharing, but Not Over Sharing
My son and sales team did not know about my challenges, mistakes, and shortcomings because I never told them. I did not set out to hide things; I just never shared my struggles and weaknesses like that with anyone. I did not present myself as Superman, but I could armor up like Ironman. Picture Tony Stark taking a step into those boots and watching the armor fall into place. That was me.
When I saw first-hand what my armor-up style was doing at home with my son and at work with my team, I adopted a new style. Now, when I see a struggle or a mistake, I share how I have also dealt with something similar. I engage them in conversation about possible ways to handle the situation. I even share how I have dealt with this, what worked and what did not. I do NOT overshare. I do NOT confess every weakness and mistake, but I open myself to sharing the challenges and struggles relevant to our journey together. I even ask them, my son, and my team, if they can help me with a problem, and I listen when they bring me their point of view (POV).
10 Actions to be More Vulnerable with Your Team
If you want to increase connection and influence with those you lead, consider doing the following:
- Take off your armor
- Ask better questions
- Listen with intention
- Share your challenges
- Ask for help
- Get your ego out of the way
- Say, “I don’t know.”
- Seek the POV and input of others
- Be humble
- Be authentic
When Your Ego is Your Enemy
I think ego is a real problem with many people in leadership positions. It becomes easy to believe we have all the answers and that we are right. But as Ryan Holiday tells us in his book, “Ego is the Enemy,” “When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes—but rock-hard humility and confidence.”
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.