Coaching & Development Solutions

Four Ways To Use Vulnerability To Enhance Your Leadership

Last week I ran a leadership workshop and one of the first activities was to ask the attendees to share who they thought was a great leader, and the reasons for that view. Some of the people who were discussed were Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and Alex Ferguson. All of these men had a clear vision and led people to achieve memorable successes. Their strength of character and self-belief were also characteristics which impressed the workshop attendees, and the idea of a strong leader came up repeatedly throughout the day. So should leaders ever show vulnerability?

The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown, Research Professor at the University of Houston, would say yes. Her book Daring Greatly is a New York Times bestseller and her talk on The Power of Vulnerability is one of the top ten most viewed TED talks. Her research on how we connect with other people made her conclude that being vulnerable leads to a greater sense of self-worth, which she terms wholeheartedness, and authenticity. These traits allow us to build stronger connections with others. If we work hard to appear absolutely perfect then that will not create trust, and Brown believes perfectionism is correlated with depression and anxiety. Accepting failures and learning from them leads to improvements and greater happiness.

I agree that showing vulnerability can build a stronger connection with others, but would argue that as a leader there are some areas in which it's important to show strength. We won't follow someone who says they have no idea on who they are or where they are going. Leaders need to have a core which will motivate others and create belief. I propose leaders should have strength of conviction about:

Personal values – Whether it's integrity, growth or compassion for others, these should not vary because they tell everyone what is most important to the leader.

Direction – The primary role of a leader is to inspire people to move the team/organisation somewhere different, and if no-one knows or understands what this is then this damages the business.

Expectations of others – It's important to know what your leader expects you to do to understand how you fit into their vision, and this creates a greater sense of engagement with the organisation.

When to Be Vulnerable

Vulnerability can be a powerful attribute for a leader to use to:

  1. Create an open culture. By admitting your mistakes you encourage others to do so as well and this reduces defensiveness which is especially useful when trouble shooting.
  2. Help people develop. If you can describe how you've had to change in your career then this helps the people you lead consider what they should change. If a successful leader has needed to develop to perform well then they should expect to do the same.
  3. Build a sense of team spirit. It's often when people open up about where things haven't gone as planned that you feel a stronger sense of connection, and as the leader you can start that process.
  4. Encourage others to take risks. By accepting that no-one is perfect you help give people space to try things even if they won't always succeed.

When I run workshops I am always open about the aspect of the topic which I've found difficult, or have failed at in the past. This helps the attendees to learn more about the subject, and also encourages them to look at themselves and reflect on what they should change. As I leader I was naturally good at some conversations (e.g. the big ask for a new exciting project), but had to work at giving people feedback on what they needed to change. It just wasn't a conversation which came naturally to me. With time and effort I looked on it as an important form of support for the people I led, and the only way we'd achieve what we wanted to do together.

About The Author

Alasdair Graham is the founder of Apex Discovery and a coach who helps leaders and businesses grow. If you found this blog post useful then please share it.

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