Why Vulnerability Can Be A Leader’s Greatest Asset

June 28, 2018 Glenn Case

Brick wall with hole signifying vulnerability

Vulnerability is one of those words that immediately stimulate a guttural response. Conjured up is the fortress wall breached. A teeming, angry hoard pouring through full of malintent.
It's a word that one typically connects with danger.
Leaders - as most people - are comfortable inside the "known".
It's natural that we create the walls around ourselves. It's where we're most comfortable. The terrain is known and predictable. We're in control there.
However, we would not have developed as a society if at some point the drawbridges weren't lowered - or walls overrun - and deeper connections nurtured.
So it is for leadership.
Vulnerability is associated with a number of important benefits for leaders. By far the most important of these is a more trusting, more meaningful connection with those they lead...
Be authentic through vulnerability
There is a close link between authenticity and vulnerability.
As Kevin Kruse writes in Forbes:
Authentic leaders..."show their real selves to their followers. They do not act one way in private and another in public; they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of looking weak."
It takes inner strength to "expose" oneself as Kruse describes.
However, employees increasingly value authenticity in their leaders. Relationships - including a meaningful relationship with their manager - is increasingly a core driver of employee engagement.
Vulnerability - showing your true colours - is fundamental to this. It dissolves barriers that impede deeper connectivity.
Develop as a leader through vulnerability
Providing effective feedback is dependent on trust. Vulnerability contributes to a deeply trusting environment between employee and manager.
Leaders often think of feedback as a one-way flow. Indeed, providing regular, specific and honest feedback is a fundamental practice of effective leaders.
Ideally, however, feedback is a two-way affair. When a manager creates trust through being warm and authentic, the team member will feel more comfortable in sharing their own deeper feelings.
Because they will trust you, they're more likely to volunteer their own suggestions on how you, the team or the company can improve. When employees assist in illuminating their manager's blind spots, it allows for a quantum shift in that leader's own development.
Yes, it takes vulnerability to achieve this - to open yourself up to this learning. But, when the relationship is truly built on trust and mutual respect, the feedback moving both ways becomes viewed as a gift designed to help each other grow.
Coach more effectively through vulnerability 
There is resurgence in attention given to coaching by managers. As was clearly noted in a recent major Gallop study, "Managers need to begin to think of themselves in a new way; as a coach, not a boss."
This relates back to the craving employees have for a deeper connection with their manager. A connection that only effective coaching can provide.
But to be an effective coach, a manager must also be vulnerable. It means being open and willing to travelling down whatever path the team member wants to take them. Perhaps even travelling into waters previously unexplored.
It also means checking judgment at the door. I wrote about this in a recent post. My own personal experience as a leader over many years taught me the importance and power of releasing judgment when coaching.
This is a tough one for most managers, as it was for me.
Especially from a performance perspective, judgment of some kind regularly comes into play. It's not just a company's expectation of the manager that engenders a judgmental point of view. It's also a zone of comfort.
Judgment is part of the managerial facade. It's an area of safety. Releasing it means moving into the unknown.
As Emma Seppala states in the Harvard Business review, vulnerability means replacing “professional distance and cool” with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
Develop your ability to lead through vulnerability. While it can be a difficult transformation for managers, it offers a number of valuable benefits.
The need for leaders to expose their authentic selves has never been greater as employees demand deeper, more trusting relationships with their leaders.

Glenn Case is a Leadership, Executive and Team Coach in Vancouver, Canada. 

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