The Power of Expressing Vulnerability as a Leader

Guest post from Eduard Ezeanu:

Expressing
vulnerability is an interesting experience; especially for a leader. When you
express vulnerability, you expose your weaknesses as a person and as
professional, making yourself more open to any potential external attack.

When
I coach people in management and leadership positions, more often than not I
discover that they dread expressing vulnerability because of this. They don’t
want to reveal the chinks in their armor in any way. Rather, they try to convey
an image of perfection and impenetrability. They often think this is how a
leader should be anyway.

The
problem is that they’re not perfect, and they don’t have to be either. This
common tendency in leaders to avoid expressing vulnerability comes from a
flawed mindset and it works against them. So I’d like to address and correct this
mindset here.

Nobody Is Out To Get
You
 

The
very foundation of the fear of expressing vulnerability is fragile: the idea (which
is often subconscious) that in the work environment others are out to get you, so
you should hide any weakness you have instead of letting it show.

This
is a highly exaggerated idea. While it is true that competition and some degree
of backstabbing are realities of the business world, for the most part people in
the business world are well intentioned and they respect others. They seek to
see the good in others, and they don’t have a hidden agenda to sabotage anyone
they can. I believe that leaders tend to be a bit paranoid in their perspective
here, which is a tendency that great power can generate.

On
top of this, it’s key to realize that even if as a leader you manage to portray
an image of perfection, other people don’t really buy into it. Because they still
know you’re only human, and therefore imperfect. So they know you have your
flaws; you’re just doing a really good job at hiding them. Which, coincidentally,
does a good job of making them distrust you.

This
brings me to my next point. If expressing vulnerability doesn’t have its
presumed downsides, what does it do? I believe that it creates one major
benefit.

Expressing
Vulnerability Builds Massive Trust

In
my view, expressing vulnerability is a very powerful leadership tool for
building trust. Whenever you express vulnerability, you show that you’re not
afraid to be genuine and human, and you accept yourself as you are. This is a
truly meaningful and rare message to convey as a leader, and it instantly makes
others trust you more. Because they know you’re not putting on an act and
you’re not about appearances.

In
addition, people connect well with each other by getting to know and understand
their vulnerabilities. Vulnerability is inclined to generate a sense of empathy
and rapport more than just about anything else you could reveal. After all, we
all have our own vulnerabilities and it’s easy for us to see ourselves in the
vulnerabilities of others. This is why it makes sense to take leadership
conversation beyond strengths and formal talk, and expose vulnerabilities as
well.

So
not only that expressing vulnerability as a leader isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually
a good thing. I see it as a leadership skill that every leader or potential
leader needs to master.

How to Express
Vulnerability

As
a coach, I’ve helped many individuals in management and leadership positions
learn how to express vulnerability in the workspace.

The
first important thing to understand is that it’s a gradual process. You
gradually get out of your shell more and show your weak spots. You notice the
effects, which will most likely be positive, and this encourages you to come
out even more. Thus, step by step, you express more vulnerability and you
become more comfortable with it.

How
do you actually express vulnerability? By talking about your flaws, fears and
failures. These are the things we usually try to hide, when in fact it’s a good
idea to expose them.

Talk
about the mistakes you made and what you learned from them. This makes for
great inspirational stories. When you realize you lack the competence to handle
something, say so and ask for help. When something worries you, express your
worry instead of keeping it to yourself. Others probably know you worry anyway,
but they also want you to say it.

Last
but not least, it’s useful to understand that expressing vulnerability is
contextual. You don’t just start talking about your failures all of a sudden in
a meeting. But if for instance, there is a discussion about a certain project
where you believe you made a bad decision, say so instead of hiding this,
blaming others or pretending you were right.

Expressing
vulnerability may seem easy enough, but it’s actually a complex skill, which
you develop with practice and by becoming comfortable with your imperfections
as a leader.

I
often say that the only person who is asking of you to be perfect is yourself.
So perhaps it’s time to let go of your perfectionism and allows yourself to be
a leader with a human face. The results will astonish you.

About the author:
Eduard Ezeanu coaches
leaders to help them
talk to others in a clear, confident and genuine manner, thus maximizing their impact
in the organization. You can read more articles on building confidence and
communication skills on his
People Skills Decoded blog.