VULNERABILITY IN LEADERSHIP
A CHARACTERISTIC THAT SHOULDN’T BE OVERLOOKED.
There are many characteristics that make people natural leaders, but when we think of these characteristics, do we consider vulnerability as one of the traits of a leader? In society, conventional wisdom holds that it is difficult to lead or negotiate or make demands from a position of perceived weakness. Leaders tend to adopt more of a stern, sometimes tyrannous attitude as a means to be taken seriously. Therefore, people, especially leaders, are expected to never show vulnerability. It now turns out that the popular perception of vulnerability is a myth.
In an ever-changing business landscape, where emotional intelligence plays an increasingly important role in leadership styles, vulnerability is now considered an asset. Vulnerable leaders inspire, are more authentic, and build bonds that lead to increased performance. This has also been illustrated by best-selling author, researcher and TED speaker Brene Brown, who in one of her most popular TedX talks, highlights that vulnerability is, in fact, the courage to show up and be seen; and that while most modern cultures err on the side of suppressing emotions in an effort to display strength, vulnerability is anything but weakness.
Brown asserts that vulnerability is “engaging in life, being all in, dedicating yourself to something.” Put another way, embracing vulnerability means having the courage to face your fears and the uncertainty of the future. A vulnerable leader decides that he or she will meet that uncertainty with an open mind, willing to experience all the ups and downs that may come with it. Vulnerable leaders know they can confront harsh realities head-on while maintaining the belief they will ultimately prevail. Once a leader decides to be open and all-in positive outcomes follow.
Within an organisation or team, the leader sets the tone. Leaders have the responsibility to guide their teams by instilling good governance and values. Brown explains that when you hide from vulnerability, you deprive yourself of creativity and innovation, as the leader is often scared of the risk that an idea or project could fail, and immediately dismisses it. She notes that to be vulnerable is brave and courageous, and this can be a value of the company
if it is set from the top. This perspective is healthy and inclusive and leads to real personal growth as opposed to a flawed perfectionism. It forces fear, insecurity and doubt to make room for improvement. We know that authenticity helps build trust, which is especially valuable now, when trust in business and leaders in general is lacking. Authentic behaviours include admitting mistakes, showing emotion, and not hiding behind a manufactured facade.
Through showing vulnerability, a leader can point out that it is okay to make mistakes or to not have the answer to something which, in turn, opens up communication and freedom of creativity and innovation amongst people. Further, by showing vulnerability, a leader is able to gain the trust of their team, as they learn that their mistakes will not be used against them. Successful leaders bring people together and build strong and lasting connections.
Another form of showing vulnerability is that a leader needs to be open to suggestions and feedback or criticism. This often highlights that there might be a better way to achieve the goal which a leader might miss because he or she cannot handle the vulnerability that criticism pushes them into, or they might be holding the team back due to things they are not aware of.
Vulnerability should be authentic, its showing people that you’re human. When leaders show their humanity – their human vulnerability – it creates a more open, trusting and collaborative culture.
“Everyone you interact with is changed forever. The only questions are, how will they be different, and how different will they be.” – Seth Godin
Source: Accountancy SA Magazine
Author: Elize Cilliers, Manager at AFA