Most people would not immediately link business leadership to vulnerability. In fact, vulnerability is largely considered an undesirable trait among all ranks at many companies, which encourages people to bury their own vulnerable tendencies. At the same time, people tend to be most inspired by individuals who are real, honest, and open. For many business leaders, vulnerability has become a strong tool to drive genuine connections and encourage innovation among employees. When leaders try to hide their vulnerabilities, they expend a great deal of energy in doing so. Embracing vulnerability helps leaders to come across as genuine and creates trust among employees.
Recognizing and owning vulnerability demonstrates a great deal of emotional intelligence. Leaders who acknowledge their vulnerability own their emotions and create an environment that embraces imperfections and allows people to be human. Following are some steps that leaders can take to embrace vulnerability.
Let go of your ego.
Leaders often have had to prove themselves repeatedly to get to where they are now. For that reason, they can sometimes let their egos get the best of them. However, holding on to ego while in a leadership position only creates barriers between executives and their employees. Leaders are most effective when they let go of their ego. In many cases, leaders only need to sit and listen to what is going on around them. When leaders drive the conversation all the time, they do not allow space for originality. Leaders who simply choose to be present keep themselves open to new ideas that could significantly change the course of a company. When ego starts to surface, individuals need to make it a habit to remind themselves that it is not about them, but rather the people around them.
Create space for synergy.
When leaders dominate the conversation, they have ultimate say over the direction of an organization. Leaders who check their ego at the door provide space for other people to collaborate and synergize. As these individuals start to connect, they will become more invested in the organization and develop a shared vision for its future. This process places leaders in a vulnerable position, as they may feel like they are no longer in control. However, reasserting control destroys the connection that develops when they create space. Ultimately, everything boils down to adopting a new mindset focused on collective achievement over personal ambition. This mindset involves transparency and accountability, which necessarily entails vulnerability.
Share personal experiences.
For some people, the idea of a vulnerable individual is undoubtedly someone who goes around telling their personal story to anyone who will listen. This idea is a caricature of true vulnerability. In reality, leaders who embrace their vulnerability do not go around sharing their secrets with their employees. Instead, they share personal experiences when they are directly relevant to the situation at hand. Some people regarded as the best business leaders have readily shared their personal stories. For example, Steve Jobs regularly used his stories of personal failure to motivate his employees and help them to learn from their mistakes. Sharing experiences creates an open environment in which people can learn valuable lessons and avoid repeating mistakes unnecessarily.
Admit what you don’t know.
Frequently, business leaders want to assert their authority and demonstrate their knowledge in an attempt to validate their position. However, this tendency can shut leaders off from new thoughts and perspectives. While admitting to the limits of one’s knowledge demonstrates vulnerability, it also opens up the conversation for novel ideas. Leaders do not have to be the first ones to offer a particular solution. Instead, the role of a leader should be to identify the best option and guide its implementation. A great example of embracing this type of vulnerability is Starbucks. In 2007, the company almost closed its doors. CEO Howard Schultz shared the position of the company with his employees and charged them with creating the change needed to keep it alive. The move has helped Starbucks to become the company that it is today, something that he knew he could not do alone.
Work toward empathy.
Great things are possible when people understand each other and where they are coming from in and out of the workplace. Leaders can set the tone by sharing their vulnerability and openness with their employees. However, leaders also need to listen to what other people share and strive to understand their position. Sharing personal experiences means little if leaders are not open to hearing what their employees have been through in their lives. When leaders take the time to listen, they create a positive model for managers and other employees to follow. In turn, the company becomes a safe place for people to be candid with their thoughts and feelings. This openness feeds into synergy and collaboration, ultimately resulting in better products and services. Relationships become deeper, and employees come to work as their authentic selves and not as a version of what they have edited for the office.