The idea of being vulnerable, makes many people squirm. It’s uncomfortable. It makes you feel weak. It can be messy. But what if it also makes you a better leader?
We’re not talking about whining or complaining, but instead, showing your human failings and stumbles. The next time you get that uneasy feeling, take a page from these three leaders who’ve found vulnerability isn’t such a bad word after all.
For Linda Rottenberg, CEO of Endeavor, a nonprofit organization supporting high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets, vulnerability wasn’t a choice. Her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer just as Endeavor was rapidly expanding. In her book, Crazy is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags, Rottenberg describes how she let down her guard and informed Endeavor’s board about her family’s situation. “Rather than freak teammates out and distance me from them,” she writes, “my vulnerability drew us closer. And it changed me as a leader. By showing my true self, by revealing that I needed other people, by communicating through every meeting, email, and, yes, the occasional tear that I wasn’t invincible, I allowed people—especially employees—to relate to me as they never had before. By indicating that I needed help, I received it in ways I never would have otherwise.”
As a leader, you set the tone for your employees, says Linda Gallindo, a Park City, Utah, based leadership consultant. Gallindo recalls one manager whom she coached that wanted her team to become more accountable. The manager distributed “Looking Back” worksheets at team meetings to allow members to learn from each other’s mistakes, but couldn’t understand why, after four consecutive meetings, nobody was coming forward to share their experiences. Realizing she had to create an environment where employees felt it was safe to share, and mistakes wouldn’t be held against them come annual review time, the manager went first. By building trust among the team, and having examples readily available, the group embraced the exercise and learned from each other. (The manager was rewarded with a better position.)
Sometimes vulnerability is as simple as admitting you don’t have all the answers and asking for help. Before Elene Cafasso, President of Enerpace, Inc., opened her executive coaching consultancy, she managed a credit card portfolio that was severely understaffed. Cafasso recalls one meeting where she advised the team what management was doing to try and bring in more employees. “I admitted my frustration and powerlessness to make these folks appear,” she reflects. “I remember saying if I could make them out of bread dough, I would. If you have any ideas on how to fill these slots or see anything I’m not doing, please tell me.” By being honest with her employees and asking for suggestions, Cafasso says, the team rallied around her and worked together until the positions were filled.