The Cost of Not Being Vulnerable

The Cost of Not Being Vulnerable - Photo by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 on Unsplash

There is a common stereotype of the successful leader who exudes confidence and seems to have an answer for everything. While this is unrealistic, it doesn’t stop us seeking to emulate it. In a recent leadership development program with a group of up and coming leaders a conversation arose that challenged my thinking. Is this how we view highly successful leaders?

An alternative perspective of the successful leader

In the session, we asked group how they viewed leaders who displayed vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to expose yourself for who you are. The good parts and the not so good parts. It includes those things we tend to hide away and hope nobody notices. Referring back to our stereotypical leader view, the vulnerable leader wouldn’t make the grade. Interestingly, in the conversation with this group they had the opposite view. If the leader isn’t vulnerable, they didn’t consider them strong and confident.

A leadership shift

While this result was surprising to me, not least because of how unanimous the group were in sharing this view, it is very much in line with other current leadership theory. Amy Edmondson in her book ‘Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete In The Knowledge Economy‘ describes some of the key leadership behaviors required to promote psychological safety. This is creating a team environment where everyone feels comfortable to contribute. Amy talks about the leader’s need to be fallible and to admit they don’t have all the answers. By exhibiting this behavior, they encourage the people around them to do the same so everyone learns together.

I wrote this article because many leaders I work with one on one are reluctant to expose their weaknesses for fear of being criticized or not looking good enough. It is a courageous road to take, but if you are willing to expose your vulnerability, the people around you will likely consider you very favorably. And you don’t have the burden of carrying a shield to hide behind, you can focus on being yourself.

Comments (1)

Andy, this was meaningful and helpful insight. well done!

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