“Never let them see you sweat.” While this quote is credited to advertising guru Phil Slott as part of the Gillette Dry Idea antiperspirant campaign in the 80s, it’s also been a corporate mantra for leaders for at least as long. That’s unfortunate, as there can be more strength in bamboo, which bends without breaking, than in the mighty oak. Let’s talk about why, when it comes to strength in leadership, vulnerability is key.
Confidence vs Arrogance
There’s no doubt that a healthy amount of confidence is required to be an effective leader, but there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. That difference is vulnerability. It means owning what you know and what you are good at, but being willing to admit when you are wrong, need help or are unsure. It’s showing your human side.
For example, say you make a call about a project, and it doesn’t turn out as expected. You could try to deny or deflect, but that will alienate your team and destroy their trust in you. Or you could own it, talk openly about strategies to fix the issue and move forward, using the experience as a learning opportunity for everyone.
Do you see how the latter option benefits everyone? Your team sees you as a person who makes mistakes and learns from them. They see you have the humility to admit when you’re wrong, and that while setbacks can be discouraging, they lead to solutions that will make the business stronger. Knowing that “no one is perfect” frees everyone to contribute and innovate without fear of judgment or reprisals.
Vulnerability in Action
Vulnerability must be authentic. If forced or faked, it can (and will) backfire, and you’ll be seen as insincere or patronizing. For people who are inclined to be stoic or strong, it can be a challenge to show vulnerability, but luckily, it’s a skill that can be acquired with coaching and practice.
One way to get started is to ask curious questions, and thoughtfully listen to the answers and discussion that results. This means not stating your opinion up front (which can make others think they have to agree with you), not shooting down responses out of hand (which makes others fearful of speaking up), and not interrupting or speaking over others (which shows you aren’t really listening).
Of course, sometimes as a leader, you have to make quick decisions based on the facts at hand. But when possible, asking questions, like “What can we do about this?” or “How can we make this better” will create buy-in and camaraderie, and likely lead to better outcomes.
Being vulnerable requires intentional effort. You may have to train yourself not to fall into the common trap of rushing to judgment or conclusions. Instead, approach conversations with a sense of curiosity.
It’s pretty common for everyone to think they are better at intangible skills like vulnerability than they are. That’s where our 360 Degree Review can be helpful. Through this process, we solicit feedback about you from your leaders, peers, direct reports, customers or vendors. We aggregate this data and compare it to your self-rating to see where you have strengths to leverage and opportunities to improve.
If you need help with specific areas of development, such as showing vulnerability, our “Next Level” Coaching provides one-on-one assistance to help you reach your full potential. Reach out to see how we can help you become the effective leader you were meant to be.