How Effective Leaders Embrace Vulnerability

Jan 23, 2020 | 0 comments

For many, being in an agency leadership role means having all the answers and providing solutions to the myriad challenges facing your organization. But what if you didn’t need to have all of the answers and, in fact, looked to those within the company for answers?

It may seem counterintuitive, but vulnerability is a key aspect of today’s most successful leaders because it is an important part of being genuine, transparent, and, well, human. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by tough decisions, obstacles, or difficult choices, getting vulnerable could very well save you from drowning in your own concerns and emotional exhaustion. Oh yes, I’ve certainly been there.

When we expose our vulnerabilities, we are more respected and become the kind of leaders that people will naturally want to follow. When this happens, the alchemy leads to greater productivity, stronger bonds and greater trust within the culture, more effective communication, better end products, higher client retention and higher profit margins.

Fear of Vulnerability

Many leaders mistakenly view vulnerability as a weakness, however, the traditional, patriarchal leadership systems of the past—where the top dictates to the bottom—results in an us-versus-them mentality that results in a lack of deep emotional connection between employees and the organization’s vision and mission.

The case for vulnerability has been made in countless studies and research findings. Still, many leaders may find it difficult to adopt such a strategy, fearing it will undermine their effectiveness and self-respect, and make them appear “weak” to their subordinates. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, sharing your concerns and challenges with your teams not only makes you more approachable and “human,” but can also provide you with solutions and new perspectives that you may have never considered or imagine.

Authenticity and integrity are critical components of effective leadership and what is more authentic than vulnerability? When we share our fears with others, we allow them the space to offer suggestions, comfort, and ideas that solve problems and lead to ingenuity in an authentic and admirable way.

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

Stepping Into Vulnerability

Since vulnerability can be an intimidating concept, especially if you’re not accustomed to sharing your challenges, moving into a more vulnerable management style can be difficult. But you don’t have to be an expert in psychology to start mentoring in a more open, authentic way. Instead, try taking small steps that help you begin to step outside of your zone of familiarity.

Change Your Mindset

Instead of viewing vulnerability as a weakness, spend some time mindfully reminding yourself that vulnerability is a courageous attribute that requires a tremendous amount of self-confidence. It takes a great amount of strength and willingness to grow, to choose to expose your weaknesses and concerns. Remind yourself that the strongest, most effective leaders understand the power of vulnerability.

Embrace Your Imperfections

Being perfect is hard work. Just ask any supermodel. Embracing our flaws and imperfections as part of our humanness makes room for us to share the things we simply cannot do as well as others. It also opens the door for employees to share their own shortcomings and to be okay with them.

Delegate A Specific Challenge

If you are struggling with solutions for a specific problem or challenge, find a person (or team) to whom you can give the challenge to. Explain the challenge and allow them to take the reins without worrying about the outcome. Doing this gives you an opportunity to not only allow your employees to make valuable contributions, but also to learn that you don’t have to solve every problem on your own.

When a leader confesses to a team they do not have all the answers, they invite collaboration and cohesion among team members that increases engagement and innovation.

Get To Know Your People

Being untouchable can create a sense of disconnect between leaders and those in their organizations. Employees who feel like they are “just a number,” are more likely to disengage and put forth minimum effort without passion or purpose. Connecting with people on a personal level will not only allow them to get to know you as a fallible human being, but also help you—as a leader—to get to know their strengths, challenges, obstacles, and the things they can do to improve the organization as a whole.

Success starts at the top—and lack of vulnerability stagnates an organization at every level, which should be avoided at all costs in service-based businesses where everything is tied back to teamwork, trust and communication. When leaders get vulnerable and communicate that they need help, only resonance and support will flow in for the greater good.

I recently published on Medium the most vulnerable piece I’ve written to-date, The Deluge of Self-Discovery — and then I shared it on LinkedIn with thousands of people. If you’re ready to embrace a new way of thinking, living, being and leading, I invite you to talk with me to learn how to get started on the journey.

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Kelly L. Campbell

Kelly (they/she) is a Trauma-Informed Conscious Leadership Coach to self-aware visionaries, a keynote speaker and a sponsored podcast host. They are the founder of Consciousness Leaders, the world’s most diverse speaker’s agency. Her debut book on trauma and leadership, entitled Heal to Lead, will be available Spring 2024 (Wiley). Sign up for pre-launch notifications here.


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