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Vulnerability in Leadership

As she spoke, her words cut like a knife. “I am tired of you people of “you people” saying that you see this and that in me. That you see great potential in me. That I need to course-correct certain things in my life and take responsibility. That I am lying to myself and that I am in my own way”. This is me using politically correct language! Let’s cut to the chase, this hit me hard, really hard and I felt completely exposed, naked, uncertain of what would happen next! Should I run or should I stay and be myself? Should I react or respond? I sat and listened as the insults flew by, one after another, but never once taking it personally. This in no way meant that it did not hurt- it did.

The solution for me was to expose myself; to show my true emotions, my heart, my fears. I chose to be vulnerable. This was the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship. This vulnerability allowed my client to be vulnerable, to see me and it built amazing trust between the two of us.
The biggest myth is that vulnerability is weakness. I was raised to believe this. To be vulnerable, to be open, to be exposed, is to be weak.

In the short time that I have worked with leaders, I have come to confirm that vulnerability is not weakness. I have come to understand that it is the greatest measure of courage.

It takes a certain courage for an individual to sit with you and bare everything and be vulnerable. This is from their private thoughts, to their mistakes, their fears, their shortcomings – taking responsibility for something that went wrong. Call is what you may; this is not a trait that most leaders want to be associated with.

How long have you been told that as a leader, you need to be “strong,” “perfect,” “a rock”? How long have you been encouraged not to show your true emotions or open yourself up to our team/family about your apprehensions, about your life outside work, and about your very real hopes and fears? What if you changed the model to lean into authenticity more? What if you decided as a leader you are going to be real and to share what you are experiencing in the right way at the right times?

The stereotypical leaders of today are depicted as men and women who never flinch or show any kind of emotion, have a stiff upper lip, and are hard charging right to the very end. One may even refer to them as the “Teflon Dons” of leadership, where nothing seems to stick or impact them on any emotional level. This stereotype depicts them as tough, demanding, unwavering, and sometimes mean to the core. Anything less and they are considered weak and not fit to lead.

When I talk about allowing your vulnerability to serve you as a leader, I mean having a willingness to be present in the moment; to make hard decisions for the long-term health of your organization, your family; to lead from the heart with compassion; to lead mindfully and with attention; and to be open to your inner centre and integrity. This model of leadership has the ability to stretch us to our fullest capacity as a human being and a leader, and is worth the effort it takes.

Deciding to become vulnerable is risky. There will be people in your organisation/family who don’t want you to be human. They would prefer that you wear a halo and pretend that you were never really tempted to do wrong in the same way that they are. They feel safer if you, as a leader, are immune to the crass realities of life.

But when we hide our weaknesses, three big problems arise:

1. Our weaknesses get worse, feeding off of the shame and secrecy;
2. We become dishonest and hypocritical; and
3. The truth inevitably comes out and people are disillusioned as a result.

So, is bearing your vulnerability as a leader worth the risk?


Why, you ask?

Here are three important reasons why vulnerability is important to you as a leader;

It builds trust. People only follow leaders they trust. The first requirement for effective leadership is credibility, and the more honest you are, the more credible you become.

Real leaders lead by example. They go first. If your desire is that the group or organization you’re leading be a place where people are open, you must be the first to open up.

You must decide whether you want to impress people (which you can do from a distance) or influence people (which you can only do up close).

It connects people: Everybody is wearing a mask, and it’s what you expect others to do as well. When you choose to throw your masks away, you surprise people with your authenticity. When you share your strengths, you create competition. But when you share your weaknesses/your heart, you create community. You let people know, we’re all in this together. Leaders are often incredibly lonely people. Why? I believe it’s in large part because they’re so afraid of the cost of being vulnerable.

It increases influence: The concept of leading from our vulnerability is, I believe, is a really big idea. In the previous generation of great leaders asked, “What’s the most powerful way to lead in this?” Now, you should be asking, “What’s the most personal way to lead in this?”

You will always be more effective as a leader and a storyteller than as a skilled orator. As you lead, try to answer these questions:

▪ What struggles and weaknesses should I share with others?
▪ What progress am I making that others could learn from?
▪ What am I currently learning, especially from my failures?

As a leader, you do not have to be perfect in order to be successful. Quite the opposite. Admitting mistakes, being open and honest, and accepting foibles and flaws yields far more effective results than projecting an untouchable facade. Tough leaders may inspire through fear or intimidation. Vulnerable leaders inspire with authenticity and humanity. Followers want leaders who will show their vulnerabilities while at work. They desire relationships with those who lead them, they want to see evidences of a leader’s true inner core to be able to understand them better and get to know them on a more personal level.

Followers don’t want perfect leaders, they want leaders who are honest, humble, genuine, and forthright.

As you seeking to be a leader who leads from your core? From the Inside out? Contact us