Leaders should be vulnerable?
This seems to make no sense in a world where we criticize leaders if they cry (Speaker of the House John Boehner and Super Bowl Winning Coach Dick Vermeil come to mind), and we tell ourselves and each other “never let them see you sweat.” After all, the first definition of vulnerable on Dictionary.com is: “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon: a vulnerable part of the body.”
Should leaders be susceptible to being hurt or wounded? If not by a weapon, by others, political forces, challenges and problems?
Before answering the question, let’s balance our view of the word. Synonyms for vulnerable include: susceptible, exposed and naked; but also include: accessible, sensitive and tender.
Perhaps you don’t think you want to be led by someone (or want to be a leader) who is exposed, but what about accessible? Perhaps not susceptible, but what about sensitive?
Here is the bottom line:
A leader who doesn’t show vulnerabilities isn’t a leader, but a poser.
And when you think about it, unless you want to be led by a robot, you know I am right.
Three Important Examples
Here are three quick and important examples of vulnerabilities leaders need to show:
Caring for Others. The powerful line that is repeated often applies here. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care . . . about them. When something happens to your team members that shakes you, let people know you care. When people are hurting, acknowledge it. Being stoic in these situations doesn’t show strength, it shows indifference and a lack of compassion.
Mistakes. If you have made a mistake, let your team know! If you believe people learn from their mistakes, then you want others to share theirs so learning can occur. And the best way to make others comfortable in sharing about theirs . . . is to share yours.
The Path to Improvement. Do you have an improvement goal? Why not tell your team what you are working on, ask them to give you feedback on your progress and ask them to hold you accountable for your improvement? Being a leader isn’t about having all the answers, but it is about learning the answers. Being a leader isn’t about being able to do everything, but to facilitate everything getting done. If you want to be a learner, and encourage others to do the same, be vulnerable in showing what you don’t know or don’t do well, and ask for help.
A Final Comment
Near the beginning of this article, I listed a number of synonyms for the word vulnerable; some of the words have a more positive perspective than others. One of the reasons being a leader is so complex is that advice given and taken is rarely black and white.
While we don’t want our leaders to be completely logical and linear, we don’t want them to be overly emotional either.
We want balance.
While we’d love our leaders to admit their mistakes, we hope they are right far more often than they are wrong.
We want balance.
In the end, what we want is for leaders to be genuine, authentic and real.
To be a remarkable leader requires that you be genuine, authentic and real – which means you must be willing to be vulnerable.
The examples above are a start. Make time to think about your vulnerabilities and how showing them can help you lead even more effectively.
photo credit Anders Ljungberg.