The vast majority of today’s senior leaders have arrived where they are by seeming invincible. That’s how they got to the top, and that’s how they stay there. Often, it’s so ingrained that they aren’t even conscious of it. They control, criticize, and intimidate—and they equate vulnerability with weakness. And yet, in our new Brené Brown-led awareness, it turns out that’s just stinkin’ thinkin’. With over 42 million views of her Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, we now know that being vulnerable proves you have the courage to be you—that you’re strong enough to risk exposure of your feelings for the betterment of yourself, your team, and your organization. Booyah!
So, that’s the answer then. Self-disclosing weakness... Easy, right? <insert eyeroll here>
Not surprisingly, I work with a lot of leaders who resist being vulnerable. Typically, it’s for one of two reasons:
Clearly, we’re living in a time where a good workplace culture is the ultimate goal. What does that mean? It’s not about the numbers (although it’s how you get them). A healthy culture begins with a strong leadership team. When strong leaders create satisfaction and engagement, encourage appreciation of diversity, build trust and respect, value transparent communication at all levels, stir a sense of pride for the company and the work being done, and provide an opportunity for each person to develop their full potential—well, you’ve created a healthy culture. When you build this sort of culture, vulnerability is not a weakness at all, it’s the fundamental foundation stone.
“Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” — Brené Brown
The leaders I work with all want this kind of organizational culture, but don’t always understand why being on the leading edge of vulnerability yourself will bring it about—or how to get there. Leaders who build self-awareness, confide in their team, admit their mistakes, and ask for help when they need it, bring real impact:
No matter how much we talk about it and wish for it, a positive culture doesn’t just naturally evolve. If the leaders don’t deliberately cultivate and model the vulnerability and trust-building necessary for the organization to develop a healthy culture, it quite naturally defaults into a negative dynamic of chronic mistrust and dissatisfaction, individual gain over company gain, high turnover, and in the end, an adversely-affected bottom line.
As leaders, we must put our money where our mouths are. If we want a healthy culture, we need to recognize that the best opportunities to build trust appear when things are not going well. These are the moments when we can make the most impact. Modelling the ability to admit mistakes or uncertainty and working together to fix the situation creates opportunity for building trust and bonding as a team. This helps you, strengthens every leader at the table, and enriches the organization.
Being vulnerable is the most courageous act of leadership. Step into it.