When it comes to leadership, we often tend towards presenting a uniform version of ourselves. Consistency, strength and honesty are the values by which our stakeholders will know us. While these are helpful attributes, we often emphasise them at the expense of presenting a more dynamic and truthful version of ourselves as leaders. Vulnerability is as important a part of our leadership as our expertise.
Vulnerability is a Compliment
While it is not often found in the leader/stakeholder relationship, it is worth taking a moment to talk about love. Love between two people can be an incredibly strong bond, underpinned by vulnerability, in particular, honesty about vulnerability. While nobody mandates love between leaders and their stakeholders it is worth noting that the relationship between vulnerability and love scales down to a professional setting.
Honesty about vulnerabilities, rather than avoidance or numbing, within professional life can engender trust between colleagues. It can enhance team morale and form an important part of team bonding. It is the complement of honesty; it's one thing for a leader to be honest about good numbers or success, quite another to be honest about what makes them, or the business, vulnerable.
In Brené Brown's TED talk she discusses the results of numbing vulnerability and concludes that by doing so "...we make the uncertain, certain." We engage in modes of thinking that are damaging for us and those around us. She concludes, after years of detailed research, that people who are given a sense of belonging through honesty around vulnerability feel worthy of that belonging.
To speak openly about how or why we might fail, is to trust others; both with the consequences of that failure and in having a role in avoiding or ameliorating it.
Vulnerability does not erode the characteristics we wish to portray as leaders, it enhances them and can catalyse stronger relationships between us as leaders and our stakeholders.
Vulnerability is a Strength
Surely vulnerability is a weakness? After all, you exploit a vulnerability to gain an advantage, right?
No. It's not so much the vulnerability that you exploit as the silence surrounding it, or worse, the ignorance of the vulnerability. No team, no matter how fantastic, can successfully plan for something they don't know anything about. Vulnerability can be accounted for, silence can be exploited.
When we withhold a vulnerability that may impact on our leadership or our business we are not doing anything to resolve that vulnerability. We may take full responsibility for attending to it even if it is simply beyond us to do so. That doesn't just affect us, it affects our stakeholders and the system we work in too. Engaging others may relieve some of the burden on us, however it also builds the relationships we value most as leaders.
Building Over Vulnerability
Being honest about vulnerabilities, discussing them thoughtfully with our colleagues, we not only build the number of people who are invested in protecting the business, we're engendering dedication to it through inclusion, trust and respect.
Vulnerability is inevitable in humans and businesses. Leaders with a management style that preferences openness over secrecy when it comes to vulnerability are the ones that develop trust within strong, dedicated teams.
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