I had a wonderful experience when I coauthored the book Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success with my good friend Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines. Colleen has a delightful point of view about vulnerability in leadership. She says:
People admire your strengths, but they respect your honesty regarding your vulnerability.
Too many leaders are closed books when it comes to relating to their teams. They are distant and detached, both physically and emotionally. Like the Wizard of Oz, these leaders are afraid to allow their people to look “behind the curtain” for fear they will be seen as less than perfect.
Colleen believes when leaders express vulnerability, it shows that they own their personal positive and negative characteristics and are willing to be themselves around their direct reports. This accomplishes two things: (1) it allows team members to get to know their boss as a person, not a title; and (2) it builds trust by letting people know it’s okay for them to let down their guard as well.
Brené Brown, the famous researcher and bestselling author of Dare Greatly and Atlas of the Heart, has been studying and writing about vulnerability for years. She says leaders need to be courageous and take chances that allow them to make a difference, but they also need to be vulnerable because they will inevitably make mistakes along the way. Being vulnerable requires humility—but that’s not the same as lacking confidence. It’s about being real.
I think being your true self at work is so important. Are you willing to let your people see the real you? Consider taking these practical steps:
- Focus mostly on others, not yourself. Why? Because people who are self-focused behave in ways that preserve their carefully curated (but counterfeit) public image. Being others-focused is about working alongside your people and meeting their needs—not being perfect.
- Here’s a shocker: your people already know you have flaws! So if you make a mistake, admit it. If you need help, ask for it. When leaders admit their mistakes and ask for help, it creates stronger, more trusting relationships with team members.
Dropping all pretenses and letting your people get to know the person behind the title won’t cause them to lose respect for you. Quite the opposite. It will allow them to see you for who you really are—a confident leader who cares about their people and is comfortable in their own skin.
“People admire your strengths, but they respect your honesty regarding your vulnerability” is Simple Truth #31 in my new book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Find it at your favorite bookstore or online retailer—and go here to download a sneak preview!