Today I want to take a deeper dive into a leadership skill that I believe will be critical as we move through and come out the other side of this pandemic. That skill is Vulnerability…or the ability to be vulnerable.
So what is it like to be a vulnerable leader? And does it matter if you are not one?
There is a new word on the street, VULNERABILITY. In fact, it isn’t new. You may have heard about the great research on vulnerability and authenticity by renowned researcher, Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and author of the book “Daring Greatly”.
Vulnerability is the ability to have the courage to be yourself, be open and authentic, and to accept that we face levels of uncertainty and risk every day. Being vulnerable is a strength for leaders because showing your human side builds stronger relationships. People relate to others who show their weaknesses and have the courage to say, “I need help” or “I own that mistake”. Highly regarded leaders are those who are willing to show their true self, be transparent, share their fears, and in doing so, build greater trust and credibility with their teams, peers and even friends. Consider also how much easier it would feel to lessen your own stress by not having to maintain that persona of perfection!
I love sharing client success stories. Earlier this year, a client received feedback from her leader following an engagement survey that she should be more vulnerable as a leader. In her long career she was always credited for being the leader to “get it done” and she rarely failed. She was hired into her current organization due to her reputation for getting things done, and her team delivered incredible technical results. However, in the survey she was rated low on her ability to build strong connections, trust, and openness. Her team needed more from her than just her technical expertise.
Her organization is common today where a leader’s success is measured not only by what they achieve, but equally, by how they achieve their results. Specifically, by developing their interpersonal skills such as communication, showing vulnerability, building trust, managing conflict, listening, showing empathy, and fostering teamwork.
My client evaluated her fit with the organization, and once we tackled her reality, and, guided by her values, we determined what vulnerability would look like for her. She started by having inclusive 1:1 meetings with her employees to build trust and rapport. She balanced conversations to included performance feedback, career and growth, personal and family needs, as well as broad-ranging team meetings and team building activities. Over time her success was further defined by improved team and peer relationships, better team openness and collaboration, and higher engagement survey scores.
In the post-pandemic world as organizations plan to return to work and/or define new ways of working, leaders will need to supercharge these interpersonal skills and adopt a people-first culture of caring within their teams. Vulnerability is at the heart of these skills.
Take a moment to reflect, in your career, who was your favorite boss or someone whom you admired greatly. What characteristics of that relationship made it so favorable? Most likely, their authenticity, ability to be vulnerable, and their interest in you and your success was at the root of your strong relationship.
Instinctively we all want to have healthy working relationships, and we may think that we do because we interpret our interactions and relationships through our own lens. The gap between how we think we are doing and how others experience us is the gap within which, exists the opportunity to improve. Many people have difficulty being vulnerable as their self-worth is attached to what they produce or earn or being seen as the expert, and they are terrified what other people might see or think as a weakness. I know that I have been there…how about you?
Vulnerability is at the heart of building connections, and Brené‘s research shows us how we can accomplish this in our personal lives and in the workplace. The following are some of the ways that I work with my clients to become more vulnerable and build greater connections with, and foster openness within their teams:
- Be authentic and transparent. Admit when you are not sure of yourself in some situations, or you don’t know the answers, and that you need help. Others will be willing to dive in to help if given the opportunity.
- Admit and own your mistakes. You are human. Create an environment where everyone owns their mistakes and mistakes become learning opportunities.
- Add a personal connection to your 1:1’s. Don’t make the conversation solely about them. Share your own personal stories and journey, needs, and feedback about your own work.
- Show empathy to your employee’s challenges. Be a good listener. Coach and support them to find a solution.
- Show eagerness to seek honest feedback. From your team, peers, and your leader. Creativity and innovation stem from listening with an open mind.
How do you think you could be more vulnerable right now? What assumption or attachment do you need to let go of to show your true self to your team? It might seem too much like showing your cards but being willing is a great place to start. Let’s chat if you think this is an area of your leadership style that you would like to further explore.