Madness, right? One of the greatest strengths for a leader is vulnerability? That just sounds like a huge oxymoron.
And, if I was to flick through the various pages of my big and very heavy book of English language rules and devices… I suppose, by definition, it is an oxymoron.
Historically, vulnerability has been viewed as weakness, and therefore, the complete opposite of a strength.
So to summarise, I must be talking absolute rubbish.
Well, I’m not.
As Simon Sinek once said… “A leader, first and foremost, is a human. Only when we have the strength to show our vulnerability can we truly lead.”
The root of the misconception behind the power of vulnerability actually grows from the word itself.
I can explain this by listing some synonyms of vulnerable. On the one hand we have weak, helpless, and unsafe, all terms which we would not want to be described as a leader. They suggest impending doom and guarantee catastrophic failure.
However, to contrast, we also have unguarded, unshielded, and wide open, which actually are fantastic adjectives for a modern-day leadership style.
Unguarded and unshielded means that you are being authentic, not putting up unnecessary defences around you. It can also mean that you have nothing separating you from those around you. They do not feel a disconnect between themselves and you.
Wide open can also mean that you are receptive, and willing to listen to opinions and ideas rather than being dismissive and arrogant.
This is why many feel that vulnerability has some form of identity crisis.
So, what can being a vulnerable leader bring to you and your team?
How exhausting must it be to constantly act in a way which contradicts your true feelings?
I’m a leader, therefore I cannot have any visible breaks in my armour. I have to always be the human epitome of power and knowledge. An unflappable force.
Sounds pretty unhealthy if you ask me.
Unhealthy for yourself and your mental wellbeing, but also for those around you. Because if you are not being genuine with them, it will become difficult for them to be genuine with you and to build the kind of connections that make teams successful.
Authenticity means allowing yourself to be human, and not this omnipotent machine. It means being real and honest with yourself and the people around you, about your thoughts, feelings, and even your weaknesses.
Not only will you feel a weight lifted from your shoulders, as you lob your impenetrable leadership act into the nearest bin, but you will also make it easier for your team to understand and relate to you.
Our Relationship With Weaknesses
A willingness to be vulnerable means that we are not stigmatizing weaknesses. If anything we are embracing and welcoming them as challenges to overcome as we improve ourselves.
If we ignore areas of development, and perhaps even avoid them entirely through a fear of appearing vulnerable, how can we ever expect to build our abilities and become much more rounded as a leader and a person.
Think about it this way, some entire species of animals would be extinct by now if they were not aware of how vulnerable they are. It is their behavioural adaptations due to their different vulnerabilities, whether it be environmental or due to being part of the food chain of a big scary predator, that means they survive.
Imagine how empty our skies would be if birds did not accept that they must migrate for food or breeding in the winter. Imagine if they did not acknowledge their vulnerability and just allowed themselves to starve.
If you are not a vulnerable leader, you could be doing this right now.
Another crucial element of vulnerability as a leader is how it supports you to recover in tough situations.
A lot of this comes down to your realness as a leader. You are real with any potential problems that could occur and also you are real with yourself and your emotions, and you are also real with others and willing to share those feelings.
Battles do not need to be fought alone with vulnerable leadership. Your willingness to be open with any ongoing situation means that you are giving your team clarity and also giving them the power to be a part of the solution. You are not carrying the burden alone.
Role modelling vulnerability as a leader is an incredibly powerful thing. It embodies high levels of emotional intelligence which will build strong bonds between yourself and your team, which then will translate from person to person.
Setting the tone of being open and honest promotes trust, as people feel like they understand you beyond the surface level. Equally people will feel trusted when you share your feelings in a way that others may believe makes them appear weak.
We are not recommending letting it all hang out and to express everything you feel to everyone about everything. That could be chaotic. We still need certain boundaries as leaders. However, we should never be afraid to be ourselves around our teams.
Build Strong Relationships And Boost Your Team’s Performance
As mentioned above, through being authentic and building trust between yourself and your team, you will be creating much stronger bonds.
Relationships where people share thoughts and feelings that are more personal to them, are always much deeper than those who are just the exchanging pleasantries and basic facts.
Therefore the morale within your team, and the success you all experience together, could be heavily influenced by the relationships you have built by embodying vulnerability.
If they see you playing to your title and role and withholding the feelings and emotion in your communications, it is very hard to build the kind of bond which makes a team a real force.
To contrast, if people feel a true connection to you, your story and your plans, it will be much easier for them to buy into you, your vision and your direction. It will be easier to talk to you about their thoughts, feelings and ideas for the way forward. To talk openly with you, without fear of judgement or fear that they won’t be heard.
Words evolve with the world they are spoken in.
My prediction however is not that ‘vulnerable’ will be a word that is viewed as overwhelmingly positive, despite this, I do think it’s meaning will become more diverse.
The years of autocratic leadership are behind us and whilst many are clinging onto it and struggling to adapt to the modern day demands of an effective leader, those who are vulnerable leaders will thrive.
You heard it here first.
Now that you’d made it to the end of the blog, you can reward yourself by viewing our quick summary video…
Alex & The Excel Team
P.S. If you would like to discuss any of your learning & development challenges for 2021, call us on +44(0) 1628488 854.
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