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Being Vulnerable Is the Boldest Act of Business Leadership

March 22, 2018

Talking about vulnerability in the workplace can be a conversation killer. Being vulnerable gets a bad rap, especially in the context of relationships and workplaces. Everyone has an opinion on the word vulnerability. People try to hide their vulnerabilities at all costs. Yet when the moment comes, you get turned on by those courageous enough to be real.

 

Vulnerability is a power tool in an emotionally intelligent leader’s toolkit. Courageous leaders leverage their “woundedness” into genuine connections, innovation and learning. They embrace moments of vulnerability by acknowledging their current state, taking responsibility for their emotions and asking for help.

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If vulnerabilities are left unchecked, energy is invested in ways to combat your perceived weaknesses. Your wounds get buried deeper. Blame, defensiveness or shame block you from taking appropriate risks, creativity is squashed, and innovation is eradicated.

 

Hiding vulnerabilities is exhausting. It is like being a secret agent, and no one must know. Hiding or protecting your vulnerabilities is driven by a mistaken belief that you are not strong enough to handle the challenges.

 

When you open the door to understanding vulnerability you are taking the first step towards ownership of your emotions and creating environments for growth and learning. A leader acknowledging "I don’t know" or "l was wrong" fosters an environment of imperfection. The gifts are in a leader’s ability to put themselves on the line in a way that recognizes you don’t need to have all the answers, and together we can create the solution. Let me share with you five ways to open the door to vulnerability in business.

 

1. How can l help?

Genuine connections are formed when you are open about your experiences. I’m not talking about the blanket rule that discloses all your personal secrets. What I am referring to are the vulnerable moments when life gets in the way. In the book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg shared lessons for leaders about becoming resilient and coping with grief following the sudden death of her husband. By being vulnerable, Sandberg created a space for conversations to be had in workplaces where employees would receive help to recover from a loss or crisisand workplaces to be more prepared to deal with failure.

 

2. Take off the armor.

Vulnerability fuels the strongest relationships and can transform performance to help bring more success to an organization. The boldest act of a leader is to be publicly vulnerable. Let me dispel the myth or visual image of a leader walking around with a box of tissues and sharing their deepest, most personal secrets with everyone. Being vulnerable at work simply means you are ready to take the armor off, put aside any pretenses, and check your ego at the door. A vulnerable leader is comfortable with not having all the answers, engages perspectives and thoughts of their people and does not have to be the first with an idea or the first one to answer.

 

In 2007, Starbucks provided a significant leadership lesson. The business had experienced the worst decline in the company history. Upon Howard Schultz's return, he emotionally shared with all his employees, if the company does not change, Starbucks as a company will be no more. His openness, transparency and allowing himself to be vulnerable to connect with his employees, resulted in Starbucks recovery and cemented their status as one of the best brands on the world.

3. Creating a vulnerability mind shift.

Start to see the aspirations of the business through the eyes of the people you lead. As you step back and allow others to take the drivers seat of conversations, your people will feel more connected, invested and a deep sense of commitment to the shared vision of the organization.

 

Glenn Llopis, author of The Innovation Mentality challenges entrepreneurs to embrace a new mindset. Given the speed of change, it is critical for leaders to see the power of relationships to collectively achieve the outcome. To build trust, business leaders must lead with a power of transparency, accountability and vulnerability.

 

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4. Check your ego at the door.

The most impactful moment a leader can provide is to be -- just sit and listen. Leaders need to stop driving the conversation, painting the vision or developing the ideas to execute. Even more than that, leaders must stop answering the tough questions along the way. When you place your ego to the side, you remain engaged and focused on the conversation. You can fully hear and embrace your people’s ideas. When your ego rears its head, and it will, remind yourself that it is not about you but the people around you.

 

5. When people share, great business is done.

Marcus Lemonis, self-made multi-millionaire and star of CNBC’s The Profit, delivered a keynote at Xerocon Austin 2017 emphasizing that the key to business is understanding people. He shared his story as an orphan born in Beirut and stressed the significance of creating spaces for people in the workplace to be candid and vulnerable. As Lemonis shared, “vulnerability is the key to business, opening yourself up and showing people who you are.”

 

Vulnerability is hardly a trait many leaders race to embrace, yet it can build deeper relationships, loyalty and enable people to bring their whole selves to work. One of the boldest act of any leader is to be publicly vulnerable to your employees and by extension, to the world.

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