Working on and expressing vulnerability in the workplace can be challenging for leaders, and doing it successfully hinges on keeping channels of communication open. In whole-company meetings or one to one, you need to maintain your calm and let the information and emotion flow both ways.
- Speak truthfully and authentically about what’s going on in the company
- Let your employees address their feelings and concerns
As a leader, it can feel uncomfortable to really lay your cards on the table and be honest and vulnerable in front of your staff, but remember, practice makes perfect. Your mindset will change, and you will become more comfortable expressing yourself honestly as time goes by.
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you have to be indecisive or that you have to run all of your thoughts past the whole team — it’s simply being open to new information and creative solutions. When you use all of the resources available to you, including feedback from other individuals in the organization, you can make a more informed decision. A vulnerable leader is still a leader; they are simply allowing themselves to use all the tools and ideas at their disposal to inform their ultimate decisions.
Vulnerability in Meetings
So how can you express vulnerability in the workplace and, above all, in meetings with your team? Firstly, don’t avoid the elephant in the room; address the issue head-on without focusing on apportioning fault or blame. If the company is moving into crisis, explain what has happened and speak clearly and honestly.
At this stage, it is essential to discuss the impact of the crisis on the company and consider anticipated and potential future effects. Be open about immediate necessary actions that the organization will have to make and be clear about what you need to focus on right now to mitigate the problems and avoid the worst outcomes. Prepare the team for both near- and long-term challenges.
Your vulnerability will allow you to solicit ideas from your people and brainstorm solutions together. As a leader, you may see problems solely from your own perspective, but remember that other team members within the company may have a different perspective and fresh ideas you hadn’t yet considered.
In a world where everybody fears their annual performance appraisal, people often feel that you’re supposed not to show your vulnerability as a leader. Honestly, I think that’s nonsense; I like it when people show their vulnerability because it helps them grow through their challenges. When you make yourself vulnerable to your people, they realize that they can trust you; they’re going to open up more to you. Guide your staff to identify their feelings of discomfort and name them because that will get more buy-in from your team, it deepens the trust, and it allows you as a leader to put them in a better position to be successful despite the difficulties they sometimes face.
My view is that trust in a leader is built by showing some vulnerability; that idea of the mythical strong person who just stands up, and is tough, and has a perfect vision for the future is a dream. You’ve got to show vulnerability to be able to lead hearts and minds.
Vulnerability is an Important Piece of the Puzzle
Being realistic and honest is at the center of showing vulnerability in the workplace — avoid sugar-coating the situation and don’t minimize the severity of any crisis you’re facing. Acknowledge the pain points and explain the positives and negatives of the situation as you see them. As a leader, it is also critical to keep your cool and be aware of your tone. Your employees are looking to you to set the tone of the conversation. If you are panicking, that sense of panic will spread to your team, so make sure to take a moment to calm yourself and get clarity of mind before you speak to others in the organization.
Vulnerability is such a big piece of the puzzle — you want to be respected as a leader, and the only way to create deep-seated respect and a sense of trust is to start by showing vulnerability first,
For more information and insight into vulnerability in the workplace or if you want to know how to develop your leadership skills further, check out some of my other blog posts, or tune in to The Athletics of Business podcast, where I discuss all aspects of leadership with a variety of inspiring leaders.