In business, exceptional leadership is key. If the CEO of the company can’t make well-informed strategic decisions, the ship will inevitably sink. Vulnerability in leadership, however, is equally important. Just for fun, let’s compare having a solid business strategy to the sturdiness of a ship. In this scenario, vulnerability is the wind in its sails. As a leader, you can motivate with incentives, punishment, or inspire courage through vulnerability. Since individuals naturally yearn to work cooperatively and bond with the group, inspiration is the best tool for rallying people to your cause and fueling long-term success. Your willingness to share both your successes and failures is critical to building trust.
The Era Of Cold and Calculating Leadership Is Dead and Gone
Rewind to a few decades ago and a slightly different style of leadership dominated the workplace. Leaders were expected to display unwavering confidence and be almost machine-like in their drive forward. A pervasive “only the strong survive” mentality was at the forefront, and fear of negative kickback from poor performance was the primary motivator. Incentives for good performance, like financial bonuses, were a close second. Work culture leveraged competition within the group to drive progress and innovation. It’s possible that, in certain circles, this type of motivational structure still works. Contemporary research into social psychology, however, indicates that authenticity and vulnerability are the most efficient ways to motivate workers.
Dispelling The Myth That Vulnerability Is Weakness
Vulnerability in leadership simultaneously appeals to both the emotional and logical brain. Folks nowadays are too socially savvy to be fooled by the act of invincibility in leadership. Logically, we all know that no one is immune to failure, feelings of self-doubt, and bouts of sadness or low energy. Leaders who try to present themselves as such come across as bad actors. This style of leadership has become a joke and is an insult to the emotional intelligence of employees. Sharing your flaws is the same as admitting that you’re human. Guess what? The secret was already out, and trying to do anything besides presenting a well-rounded, authentic personality communicates dishonesty.
According to a study published in the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, “the capacity to assess and accept one’s own emotional response and personal vulnerability, coupled with the ability and willingness to model healthy coping behaviors, can serve as powerful leadership tools.”
The study pointed out that this idea holds especially true during times of downsizing, restructuring, merging, and other periods of uncertainty. During these times, employees are prone to seek refuge from the stress and anxiety of an unforeseen future by seeking employment elsewhere.
Vulnerability Communicates Courage
One of the most prominent leaders in this area of research is Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She gave a fantastic Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability in leadership. The talk summarizes the core concepts of her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.”
According to Brown, “vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity.”
Not only that, but vulnerability encourages trust by directly communicating courage. It’s an accurate way for employees to measure how a leader will handle difficult decisions in times of high stress.
Vulnerability Is Earned
There is such a thing as being too vulnerable with the wrong people. Before you expose your weaknesses or entrust people with sensitive information about your organization, employees need to earn your trust. Likewise, you should always use vulnerability to help unify the group to rally behind specific problems. Merely revealing personal struggles by blasting messages on Twitter doesn’t communicate courage. It conveys quite the opposite, actually: neediness for attention.
Vulnerability is only powerful within the context of goals. For example, sharing the details of your organization’s financial goals, the hurdles involved, and your personal ups and downs as company leader are essential components of stellar leadership.
The goal of vulnerability is to imbue trust by being an emotionally authentic leader. When you do this with the intention of enhancing productivity, your employees will be more likely to view you as an intelligent, courageous, and capable leader. Vulnerability is infectious when you initiate it from the top down. It has the unique ability to motivate, promote bonding within the group, build trust, and drive innovation.