When you hear the word vulnerability the words that tend to come to mind are likened to weakness, shortcoming, flaw. Chances are the last word you might associate with vulnerability is leadership.
Instead, we tend to associate leadership in terms of confidence, charisma, strength, power. What you might find surprising is that vulnerability can lead to the strongest points of character a leader has.
Showing vulnerability is difficult for everyone, but allowing yourself to be more vulnerable is the best way to build strong relationships. When you can open yourself up to others they are more inclined to return the favor, thus building trust.
How does this apply to leadership? Being able to express concern to your team allows for open communication, which shows your team that you trust them enough to openly communicate and problem-solve together, that even as a leader you do not have all of the answers, and it is okay to ask for help no matter where you are on the totem pole.
Now that we know how important vulnerability is to leadership, how do we begin letting our guard down? It isn’t an overnight process, but there are steps all leaders can take to up their vulnerability:
1. Build self-awareness and ask the hard questions.
When in doubt, ask. While it is easy for leaders to sell this credo to their team, it is often hard to act upon themselves. All too often leaders get stuck in their heads, speculating why their team doesn’t trust, respect, believe in them. Instead of going down a spiral of self-doubt, start asking the hard questions. You cannot know what anyone is truly thinking if you aren’t willing to ask. But more than asking, you need to be willing to act on the answers.
When a leader has confidence in themselves, in their strengths and weaknesses, they are better able to engage in self-disclosure. Begin with building your self-awareness, cultivate your emotional intelligence, and then pursue self-disclosure.
2. Share your story.
This one isn’t new, Dale Carnegie has been building upon this art since he wrote How to Win Friends & Influence People. Storytelling allows for a more natural and organic openness between you and your audience.
Your life is full of stories. Telling those stories to engage people on an emotional level, in turn, makes them more open and receptive to hearing what you have to say. Stories help your audience see you as a person who, much like them, is capable of making and learning from their mistakes. Your willingness to share your experiences, good and not so good, builds the trust you need to lead a successful team.
3. Bring in reinforcements.
Long gone is the notion that leaders should have all of the answers, all of the time. True leadership is realizing the difference between what you know and what you don’t, and more importantly when to ask for help. Leading with vulnerability means knowing when to bring in reinforcements. Having an outside perspective helps leaders to be better at their job and gain a deeper insight into vulnerability.
4. Be honest, be empathetic, be authentic.
If you are practicing leading with vulnerability these traits should seamlessly fall in line. In being vulnerable you are being honest because you are sharing who you are, what you are feeling. When you are vulnerable you can empathize with others. When you can empathize you can recognize and understand what others are going through and find ways to help. Lastly, it is impossible not to be your most authentic self when you are leading with vulnerability now that your walls have come down.
Once you embrace vulnerability as a strength, you pave the way for others to do the same, making for a more collaborative team.
“The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you recognize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.” – Dale Carnegie