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Strength through vulnerability

As a leader, it can be easy to feel pressure to present a strong front at all times. Yet true leadership is not about being infallible. Yes, leadership is about having a strong vision and clear direction but it is also about creating a culture of trust and authenticity. A key element of this is embracing vulnerability. In fact, being vulnerable and transparent with your team can actually lead to more effective and efficient outcomes.


So what exactly is leadership vulnerability, and why is it important?

Two swans in a pond on a foggy day


Defining Leadership Vulnerability


Leadership vulnerability refers to a leader's willingness to be transparent and honest about their own thoughts, feelings and challenges. This can include sharing personal anecdotes, admitting when they don't have all the answers, asking for help when needed and welcoming feedback. It's about being human.


This kind of vulnerability can be difficult for many leaders, as they may feel a need to project an image of invincibility. Now more than ever though, vulnerability is a vital component of effective leadership. When a leader is willing to be open and 'human', it creates a sense of trust, connection and credibility. It also serves as an example for others to open up more, ultimately leading to more collaborative, innovative, engaged and resilient teams.


"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." Brené Brown

The Benefits of Leadership Vulnerability


There are several benefits to embracing vulnerability. Here are a few:

  • Building trust: when a leader is willing to be vulnerable by being open and honest with their team members, it shows they value their team's trust. In doing so, the possibility of forming genuine and meaningful connections grows. It allows leaders to connect with people on a deeper, more human level, as team members see them as real people and not just as authority figures. Sharing vulnerability contributes to making leaders relatable and approachable, leading to greater trust and understanding. As a result a stronger sense of connection and commitment is created.

  • Encouraging authenticity: when a leader models vulnerability, they demonstrate humility, that it's ok to not have all the answers. Vulnerability allows leaders to let their guard down and show that they are not infallible. In doing so it encourages others to be authentic and honest in their own interactions, creating a psychologically safe environment where people feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions. This can lead to more productive dialogue, with greater team collaboration and creativity.

  • Promoting innovation: a team that feels safe and trusted is more likely to take risks and come up with new and innovative ideas. And a leader comfortable with their own vulnerability is more likely to listen and act on those creative suggestions. When leaders are open to feedback and willing to admit what they are struggling with, it allows for a more diverse range of perspectives to be considered. This can lead to improved problem-solving, better decision-making and a more innovative and adaptable team.

  • Improving resilience: when leaders are able to acknowledge and learn from mistakes, failure becomes part of the learning experience which helps to build resilience within teams. And a team that is resilient is better able to handle challenges and setbacks.

  • Personal growth: vulnerability helps leaders and their team grow and develop as individuals. A willingness to encourage suggestions and thoughts from others opens us up to new and different perspectives or solutions. It fosters growth and encourages the development of potential.


Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness." Brené Brown

The Challenges of Leadership Vulnerability


While the benefits are many, it's not always easy to be open and honest as a leader. Some of the challenges may include:

  • Feeling exposed: revealing personal anecdotes or admitting mistakes may feel risky. It's natural to want to protect yourself from the potential judgement of others.

  • Being misinterpreted: when you share your thoughts and feelings, it's possible others may not understand or agree. This may be frustrating or disheartening.

  • Fear of being perceived as weak: some may worry that showing vulnerability will make them appear weak, uncertain or incapable of doing their job.

Being vulnerable as a leader doesn't mean sharing every personal detail or being overly emotional. Vulnerability is shown through your actions such as your willingness to say 'I don't know' and your ability to listen and empathise.


How Executive Coaching can Help


While the idea of being vulnerable may be daunting, executive coaching provides a safe and confidential space to explore and develop your leadership vulnerability. A place to be curious about your thoughts and feelings, explore what might be holding you back, establish your vulnerability boundaries, and work through how to effectively and appropriately share vulnerability with your team.


Executive coaching builds self-awareness, a critical component of leadership. By increasing self-understanding you can better lead and inspire your team in various ways:

  • Communicate more effectively with your team members

  • Build trust and credibility with your colleagues

  • Create a culture of openness and transparency

  • Address and overcome any underlying blocks


Conclusion


Leadership and vulnerability may at first appear at odds with one another. After all, leaders are often expected to be strong, confident and in control, while vulnerability may at times be viewed as weakness. However, demonstrated appropriately, leadership vulnerability is a powerful way to contribute to building stronger relationships, strengthening trust, improving team creativity, growing potential and ultimately increasing business performance.


In today's post-pandemic world, it is a key component of effective leadership for helping your team to thrive.


What can you do to show your leadership vulnerability?

You may just surprise yourself how liberating it feels and just how beneficial it is for you, and your team.






Executive, Leadership & Team Coach

Co-Founder and Director, Hunt Radley Associates


Like to explore this topic more in your own leadership? Let's chat

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