I recently found myself having one coaching session after another with front line managers and team leaders on the virtues of being more vulnerable with their team and colleagues. It seems that this is one of the leadership qualities we miss in our supervisory onboarding efforts. They get stuck trying to be more authoritative and show everyone why they are now the manager. Some feel compelled to know everything and cover up mistakes with justifications. In their efforts, many end up alienating the very people who once believed they would make a good manager.
Vulnerability has a clear role to play in building trust with the people you are relying on to collaborate and problem solve with you on a daily basis. A willingness to be truly honest about not knowing some things or about not having been in certain situations before can bridge gaps immediately and bring people onto your side. Since they already know these things, not owning up tells people that we are more concerned about our own reputation than we are the results.
Ask yourself a few questions to check if you're striking the right vulnerability level with your team:
- Have you sincerely apologized recently for a misstep that impacted someone else in the recent past?
- Have you recently admitted to the group that you were unclear about how to proceed on something?
- Have you personally asked for help from a direct report because they had knowledge or experience that you didn't?
- Have you allowed yourself a change of opinion based on the wise words of your colleagues or staff?
If the sound of these make you cringe a little, you are probably missing a huge opportunity to build more trust and credibility with the people around you. I'm often asked, "Won't it make me seem weak or not the right person for the job?" The reality is usually the opposite. Not doing it makes you seem arrogant and unwilling to value the skills and knowledge around you. If you're apologizing on everything, it's an issue of true competence not vulnerability.
I can honestly say that my own growth as a leader has been more impacted by learning to be more vulnerable than any one other area. I once had a staff member who knew I was struggling with a mistake I had made, joke with me "Relax. We all knew it was a mistake, and now that you've acknowledged it, we're all back on the same page." What I may not have known back then, (but I do now) is that "being on the same page" makes all the difference in our ability to lead successfully.