Recent changes in our work environments and psychological needs have accelerated the rise of a new core leadership strength: vulnerability.
Although we all struggle, sharing our struggles with those we lead has traditionally been a sign of weakness. In contrast, TED speaker, Brene Brown, notes that vulnerability is a compelling way to build trust, and this could not be more important as we head toward 2022.
Four prevalent conditions explain why leaders who allow their vulnerability to show will achieve better outcomes:
First, fast-increasing complexities, uncertainties and risks require leaders to navigate unchartered territory on a daily basis. We will need leaders who know how to pool the resources around them to get answers from others. That means being comfortable saying, “I don’t know.”
Second, vulnerable leaders will provide the empathy needed. The emotional impacts of covid, such as grief, loss of income, fear, stress and isolation will be felt for years. Nick Jonsson, Co-founder of EGN, Singapore, Asia’s largest executive networking organization notes that, “Employees will need leaders who share their feelings and can role model resilience and healthy coping skills.”
Third, vulnerable leaders will build better teams. Covid also created an irreversible surge in the need for remote collaboration and cooperation. Leaders may be managing a project without actually having authority over the team executing the project, who may come from different departments. What will it take to galvanise team members working in silos?
According to Nick Jonsson, “It’s all about honest human connection. When leaders show their own humanity to their teams, then members feel more open with each other. They bond more authentically, speak more candidly, and are more willing to help one another. That’s how you create intrinsically motivated teams. But it has to start with the leader.”
Finally, leaders who are not comfortable revealing their own humanity will have a hard time managing the transparency of remote communication. Much of daily communication today is recorded on technology, and sensitivities to gender, race, language and other biases are more delicate that ever. These two factors increase the possibility of unintentional gaffs being shared publicly. A leader who can’t expose their own flaws will refrain from exposing themselves at all.
Being vulnerable will be feel counterintuitive for many leaders. The ones who see it, not as defeat, but as the path to victory – and who embrace it as a vital adaptation to the changing world we live in – those leaders and their teams, will thrive.