The Importance of Showing Vulnerability as a Leader
“Vulnerability is the best measure of courage” ~ Brené Brown
At a glance, vulnerability is seen as a weakness, particularly in business. When it comes to leadership, vulnerability is often treated as a liability for leaders. Leaders feel a constant pressure to perform at a higher level than others. After all, it is leaders who are expected to have a vision, take the actions necessary to bring it to fruition and answer the tough questions along the path.
In reality, this view of vulnerability prevents leaders from being effective. When we hear the stories of successful people we are frequently inspired by the circumstances and obstacles they were able to overcome along their path. Although we go to great lengths to hide our own vulnerability, it is most often the vulnerable leaders who share their weaknesses and struggles that we find the most authentic, inspiring and easy to connect with.
Not only does vulnerability allow us to be our authentic selves, it is a powerful tool that we can use to empower others. So how does one go about utilising their vulnerability as a leader? Here are some important points:
What is Vulnerability in Leadership?
Contrary to popular belief, being vulnerable does not mean you have to share your deepest, most personal secrets and let it all hang out. It means letting your guard down, putting pretenses aside and being yourself.
Brene Brown, the best-selling author of books including The Power of Vulnerability and Daring Greatly, has done extensive research on vulnerability. Brene argues that vulnerability is ‘engaging in life, being all in, dedicating yourself to something.’
A leader who expresses vulnerability is someone who does not feel compelled to be the first to answer or come up with an idea. Being vulnerable as a leader involves a change in mindset that enables you to see through the eyes of the people you lead. By doing so, you invite them to become the drivers of the conversation. The result is that people become more involved and invested.
How to be Vulnerable as a Leader
Although we are all vulnerable at the core, expressing this outwardly in a meaningful way is not easy nor is it necessarily comfortable. Here are a few ways to open up communication and vulnerability in your leadership practices:
Learn the Value Vulnerability- Being vulnerable doesn’t make you weak, it allows you to show people your authentic self.
Recognise Your Own Vulnerability- Confronting your own self-doubt is a great starting point for getting in touch with your own vulnerability. No one is free of worry or reservation at all times. When you address your own self-doubts they lose their power over you, and in doing so help you better empower others.
Practice Vulnerability- Even if you see the value in vulnerability it does not automatically translate in being able to convey that vulnerability freely. Most of us need to practice being vulnerable because we’re used to doing the opposite. Work on your vulnerability by being an active listener and not worrying about saying the right thing. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers or be wrong. Sometimes the boldest thing a leader can do is listen and truly hear other people’s ideas and answers.
Using Vulnerability as a Superpower
Emotionally intelligent leaders recognise vulnerability as a powerful tool. Smart leaders who are in touch with their vulnerability and express it appropriately at the right times to the right people will experience greater support from their followers in addition to empowering and inspiring them.
Here are some powerful benefits vulnerable leaders experience:
Meaningful Connections- By embracing moments of vulnerability leaders can form more genuine connections. Even though it may feel uncomfortable it portrays the leader as a real person rather than a robot, someone relatable.
Greater Innovation- Although leaders do have a an important role to play by absorbing fear and uncertainty, courageously expressing vulnerability allows them to lead with authenticity. This fosters a growth-mindset culture in organizations by creating a sense of psychological safety, allowing employees to move beyond their comfort zone and take risks. By meeting uncertainty with openness and a willingness to learn vulnerable leaders and their teams set themselves up for greater innovation.
Accepting Help- Leaders often find it challenging to delegate a portion of their work to others. This may involve admitting that they have too much on their plate or that someone else may be better suited to the task at hand. By letting go and allowing someone else to take on a portion of the responsibility leaders demonstrate trust in their team and are sharing their vision. It also allows them to focus on their strengths and leverage the contributions of others rather than struggling alone with their weaknesses.
Decreased Stress: Expressing vulnerability can kick the elephant out of the room and allow people to talk freely about topics that may otherwise have been uncomfortably avoided. The result is increased openness and decreased tension in work environments (and for leaders themselves).
Greater Self-Awareness: When leaders identify their vulnerabilities and express them appropriately, leaders can become more self-aware and less insulated.
Identifying Issues Faster: By creating a more open, communicative work environment through their own vulnerability leaders are then able to discover problems faster. People are more likely to bring issues forward and admit to mistakes if they are less afraid of doing so. Vulnerability stimulates collaboration, learning and growth rather than fear, cover up and blame.
Although it may seem paradoxical, showing vulnerability is actually showing strength. Exhibiting such authenticity and speaking truthfully about vulnerabilities is the essence of leading with a growth mindset. Vulnerability is indeed a superpower and leaders should take the time to learn how and when to use it to empower those they lead.