Vulnerable leaders have the best teams and the best teams have vulnerable members. Honesty about imperfection makes results better and gains respect. Somehow we mistakenly define being a good manager as being the one with all the answers. This piece is about vulnerability in the workplace, and it’s not just for managers!
Do you ever have that voice in your head telling you to show people that you are in control, smart and stable, even in moments when you are slightly insecure? I think we all do. Have you ever wondered how people around you seem so capable and confident while some of your thoughts are insecure? Guess what.. the odds are that many (most) people around you are putting an effort into looking like they’re in control all the time, when in fact, they have insecure thoughts just like you and I!
We are not perfect
Let’s be clear, nobody is perfect. We were all raised into patterns that still affect how we behave and communicate today, we all do some things on autopilot assuming we are doing things in the best possible way, when the truth is, we are being inefficient or ineffective. It makes sense, because that piece of behaviour you mastered in 2015 and served you well might not be the best way to go about things today. As the world around us changes we need to sometimes take a step back and re-evaluate what we do and how we act.
So, let’s imagine that even the smartest and most experienced people are making mistakes and have insecure thoughts. We live in an age where the world around us is developing at a very high pace, so the #1 competence of our generation might be: constantly adapting. To do so, we need to assume that the best way to go about things today might not be the best strategy tomorrow.
Hurray for (some) self doubt!
Shall we also decide that insecurity is not always a bad thing? Because if you’re never insecure, you might assume you are doing everything right, resulting in arrogance. If you never doubt and you decide that YOUR truth is THE truth you might not be open to other opinions or views. You might make mistakes and not learn from them. You might not be using the unique skills and knowledge of others around you.
Vulnerability is strength
Being honest about your mistakes, flaws and fears takes a lot of courage. So showing vulnerability is a huge show of strength and confidence. We tend to respect authentic vulnerability and percieve it as something good.
I wonder if this is recognizable: you are in a group and somebody uses an abbreviation or maybe a technical term you don’t know the meaning of. Within one second you have the thoughts: “wait, what does that mean” followed by a quick glance at the rest of the group and the thought: “shit, the others seem to know what it means”. And then the thoughts that restrict us: “I don’t want to be the one to ask because I don’t want to look stupid” or: “It’s too late to ask now, because then they’ll know I didn’t know what it meant before”.
And then I wonder if you’ve experienced this: if somebody from the group impulsively says: “wait, what does that mean” you discover that more people did not know the meaning of the phrase but like you, they didn’t ask! I’ve personally experienced this many times, which to me proves that we are all trying very hard not to be vulnerable.
We are all trying very hard not to be vulnerable
Now let’s focus on the person who admitted to not knowing the phrase. How did this person come across? Do you respect this person less or more than before? I dare to wager that you see this person as confident and free. I also believe that other people in the group will be encouraged to show small moments of vulnerability in the future. Because hey, who are we fooling by acting like we know everything? Not knowing one detail does not mean a single thing in regard to your professionalism and competence.
Vulnerable leaders have the best teams
As managers we often make the mistake of wanting to show that we are always in control, that we have all the answers and we never doubt ourselves. Somehow we mistakenly define being a good manager as being the one with all the answers.
In this age of change the best way to be adaptable as a group, team or organisation is to use the qualities of many individuals and create a culture in which leadership is not defined by ‘having all the answers’ but by empowering the group to self-solve. That way, whatever life or business throws at you, there is always somebody with the answer or the right questions.
Somehow we mistakenly define being a good manager as being the one with all the answers
Do you recall which manager you respected most in the past? My bet is, it was the one who was personal, realistic, authentic, and not trying to have all the answers. The one who encouraged you and your environment to share your thoughts and the one who was the first to admit his or her mistakes.