Real Leaders

7 Reasons Being Vulnerable Makes Better Leaders

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 22: CEO Howard Schultz speaks during the Starbucks annual meeting of shareholders on March 22, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. The 25th annual meeting will be the last for Schultz as CEO. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

“You have to be honest and authentic and not hide. I think the leader today has to demonstrate both transparency and vulnerability, and with that comes truthfulness and humility.” Howard Schultz  

Although this is changing, there are still leaders today who are afraid to let their guard down, share their feelings and admit that they don’t have all the answers. The pace of change is accelerating so quickly that one person at the top can’t have all the answers. Leaders need to rely upon the people around them for knowledge, answers to difficult problems, and support. The only way to survive and thrive in today’s workforce is to have all hands on deck. Old myths, misconceptions, and fears die hard. One of those myths is that vulnerability is a sign of weakness and that a leader who shows vulnerability will lose the respect of his colleagues.  Nothing could be further from the truth as it has been shown that leaders who can be vulnerable create healthier, more effective workplaces. 

“Vulnerability is the best measure of courage.” Brené Brown 

Being vulnerable and showing oneself to others is actually a sign of courage and self-confidence in a leader. This doesn’t mean that they just let it all hang out, spilling out their emotions whenever they feel like it. Successful leaders know when the time and place are right to show their real and authentic selves. 

Here are seven reasons that vulnerability is an attribute in leaders: 

1. Decreases Tension and Stress at Work

Have you ever worked somewhere with an elephant in the room, and nobody was talking about it? Avoiding and tiptoeing around secrets at work can be very stressful. Everyone’s blood pressure rises trying to figure out ways of avoiding uncomfortable topics when they come up. Stress could be decreased considerably by acknowledging uncomfortable topics and allowing people to talk about them. If everyone sees that their leaders can bring up unpopular areas for discussion, they will feel freer and less stressed to talk about them as well.  

2. Increases Flow of Ideas, Creativity, and Innovation

By acknowledging that they don’t have all the answers, leaders give freedom for all staff to have input and have their feedback and ideas considered. By admitting their mistakes, managers give their staff more room to contribute their feedback and ideas to the organization. Leaders who acknowledge they made poor decisions and can still forgive themselves, through their example, let those under them know that it is okay to take risks and try something new and untried. This leads to more ideas coming forth at all levels, creating a more dynamic, competitive organization.  

3. Better Communication Flow

A leader of an organization sets the tone for what is acceptable and not acceptable to talk about. If able to be open and share information honestly and authentically, a leader sends a strong message that this is not only acceptable throughout the organization but it is the norm. Team members will feel that it is okay to open up and share. This keeps the communication channels flowing more smoothly.  A great idea to start a meeting is a brief “check-in” around the table with each person.  This will give insight into where and how each individual is coping in their real world and an understanding of where they are coming from.  Empathy leads to understanding and imparts a healthy communication flow. 

4. Problems Identified Earlier

Many times people are afraid to bring bad news and problems to their leaders as they are afraid that the information will not be well received. By the time the leaders find out what is really going on, a great deal of damage could have been done, making the situation more difficult to resolve than if they had found out earlier. Staff who witness their leaders being vulnerable and admitting their mistakes are more likely to come forward as they are less likely to feel retribution for being the bearer of bad news.  

5. Better Teamwork and Cooperation

Workplaces with closed and aloof leaders lends people to look for ways to get ahead by currying favour with and trying to impress their leaders. There is a greater occurrence of backstabbing and not sharing information amongst staff as they see people who have gained positions of authority acting in that way. They are constantly trying to guess and determine what those above them want and spend time and energy trying to determine what they need to do to get the approval of those above them and win a promotion. This energy could be spent more productively working together for the overall good of the organization.  

6. Creates a Fun Workplace

A workplace with a lot of secrets is not a healthy or fun place to work. Always being on guard and having to be careful what we share and with whom can dampen down the spirit and create a workplace that people dread coming to every day. A leader who is open, vulnerable, and authentic raises the mood of the work environment and creates a healthy, vibrant atmosphere that everyone looks forward to being part of. 

7. Emotional Connections Leads to Less Turnover

A great deal of workplace research points out that being emotionally connected to a workplace is often a deciding factor on whether or not people will stay or look elsewhere.  An open, honest and authentic leadership makes it much more likely that staff at all levels will feel a connection to the organization at an emotional level when they feel connected with their leaders. They are less likely to jump ship, even for more money or benefits, when they feel their leaders have their best interests at heart.

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