The strongest people in life are the ones that are comfortable saying ‘I don’t know.
As a young boy growing up in the ’80s and ’90s there were plenty of heroes for kids to latch on to and look up to for leadership. While there were great leaders like Princess Leia, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, or even Optimus Prime, there was a lot of strength exhibited, but not too much vulnerability.
Today, employees and customers are demanding transparency from organizations and leaders alike. Portraying an exaggerated level of strength and power will not connect in a lasting way. Leaders and companies can longer hide behind policies and procedures without relational consequences from others.
So how should we leverage vulnerability in a way that feels real and authentic without giving everything away?
What is Vulnerability in leadership?
Brene Brown describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” It doesn’t mean that you have to immediately lay all your transgressions, personal failings, and fears out there for all to see. It does mean that you should let others see those moments when appropriate. It’s letting people you see authentically navigate uncertainty. It’s exposing some emotion to let people see that you are real. It’s installing trust and taking a risk by sharing things about yourself and what you are going through. Vulnerability is about being true to yourself and allowing another person to see into your personal journey.
How vulnerability impacts your life and those around you
Vulnerability is a sought out trait in personal and professional relationships. Here are some ways that it can impact you.
- It can help lower turnover at work: People desire purpose and connectivity in the work that they do. (PTB XXX: 4 ways to find purpose in work) The stronger the emotional tie that the employee has with their work, the less likely it is that they are going to go somewhere else. Leaning into your vulnerability furthers your connection with other employees in a meaningful way. Vulnerability makes it less about you and more about others, giving them a chance to shine and be recognized for their hard work.
- It paves the way for authentic relationships: Think about the relationships that you have that are deeper than a “How are you?” Most likely they are meaningful to you because they feel real. They are authentic. Vulnerability paves the way for those long-lasting authentic relationships. It’s really difficult for relationships to care deep meaning if there isn’t some layer of vulnerability being shown from both parties.
- It fast-tracks trust: Lots of companies exist with the sole purpose of providing teams and companies bonding experiences to build trust. A healthy level of vulnerability can fast-track trust just as quickly as a high ropes course or trust fall exercise. Being vulnerable with others shows them that there is a safe place to store their trust in you.
- It breaks down barriers to innovation and creativity: Both innovation and creativity can be a fickle and challenging thing to manifest in a team environment. You can make distractions and barriers smaller by being vulnerable and authentic with others. When you admit your mistakes and acknowledge that you don’t hold all the answers, it allows others to step in a new and exciting way. Leveraging vulnerability as a strength also helps you acknowledge others’ achievements and take your ego out of the equation. This of course only helps fuel more creativity.
Tips to be more vulnerable with others
Being vulnerable to others can be difficult. Putting up a proverbial shield around yourself can make you feel protected. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. You may be unknowingly singling yourself out in a bad way from your peers and from the team that you serve. As competition heats up in business and in keeping great talent, it’s important to take small steps in order to be more vulnerable to others.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously: Whether you are stepping into a new role, or a new company it can be tempting to try to impress everyone. Drop the veil of perfection and let your guard down a little bit with others. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with others. Have a great time while celebrating with others.
- Share your personal journey with others: Hopefully, you have a good sense of the personal areas that you need to work on to grow as a person and leader. If you don’t, ask your team, they certainly know what those areas are! Even though they know your growth areas, it’s important for you to share those with others and tell them about your path to growth. It show’s your awareness of the topic and your willingness to discuss those with others will create a stronger personal bond.
- Admit your mistakes and check the ego: Easy to say and often harder to do, admitting to your mistakes with others is an important part of being vulnerable. It also helps keep your ego in check as well. If you struggle here, start small and keep yourself accountable as you grow to own up to larger mistakes.
- Continue to self-educate: A phrase my team uses often is “self-educate” This typically happens when one of us admits that we don’t know the answer yet to a challenge, but we commit to learning more and landing a positive outcome. I use this phrase just as much as everyone else! Acknowledge your knowledge limits and then be proactive in growing and learning. Something new and positive has always come out of the other end of one of these statements for us.
Great leaders understand the power of vulnerability. That leverage that power, without manipulating it, to grow personal relationships, builds trust and long-term buy-in from their team, and helps themselves stand out from the competition. Be a servant leader that is vulnerable in your daily walk in order to lift others up.
Make a better tomorrow.