Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, once said, “The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability… When the leader demonstrates vulnerability and sensibility and brings people together, the team wins.”
Almost everyone seems to think that being vulnerable is a bad thing – it implies that you’re weak or defenseless. In fact, when someone is willing to admit they’re vulnerable, it demonstrates a level of trust and respect with the person or people they’re opening up to. Great leaders recognize the importance of bringing vulnerability to work because it is the foundation for open and nonjudgmental communications. The boldest act of a leader is to be publicly vulnerable.
While it may not come naturally to leaders or people – no one wants to open himself or herself up to being emotionally challenged – vulnerability can mean a complete transformation in relationships and performance. Being vulnerable in the workspace doesn’t mean you walk around with a box of tissues and share your deepest, most personal secrets with everyone. Being vulnerable at work simply means you are ready to let your guard down, put aside any pretenses, and be your real self. A vulnerable leader is one who checks his or her ego at the door, is comfortable with not having all the answers, and is ready to wholeheartedly embrace the perspectives, opinions, and thoughts of his or her people.
A leader who shows vulnerability is someone who stops feeling compelled to be the first one with an idea or the first one to answer a question. Becoming vulnerable requires a mindset shift where you start to see the aspirations of the business through the eyes of the people you lead. This invites them to become more involved in – and in fact to become the drivers of – the conversation. When you are vulnerable, your employees feel more connected, invested, respected, and vital to the organization. Everyone benefits.
Boldly vulnerable leaders are exceptional at discovering the authentic perspective of the people they lead and continuously see the business through the eyes of the people they serve. Here are three key things to think about so you can put titles aside and open up the lines of honest communication and vulnerability in the office:
Leaders feel an almost constant pressure to perform at a higher level than others. They are the ones expected to paint a vision, develop the ideas to execute the vision, and answer the tough questions along that path. But sometimes the boldest thing a leader can do is to just sit and listen – rather than drive the conversation. No, this doesn’t mean you’re lazy. In fact, it’s enabling you to fully hear and embrace your people’s ideas.
Being vulnerable isn’t a bad thing and it doesn’t make you weak; it actually makes you a better leader because you stop wasting energy protecting yourself from what you think other people shouldn’t see. It allows you to start showing your authentic self. By accepting vulnerability as a strength, you stop worrying about having every answer and realize that yes, it’s okay to even be wrong. Regardless of what you don’t know, or whatever skill you don’t possess, your people are there to assist. You helped put these people here and it’s important to leverage all they bring to the table.
Most of us need to practice being vulnerable because we’re used to working to impress others through our actions and words. A vulnerable leader is an active listener who isn’t worried about saying the “right” thing and can remain engaged and focused on the conversation. This results in being able to better motivate and encourage your people as they develop the next great idea and then work shoulder to shoulder to bring it to life.
By Jim Haudan with special contribution by Katharine Lind.
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