Vulnerability – An Access to Powerful Leadership

A few years ago, I was working for a client who had recently become the UK MD for a global company. At the time, the UK business was doing quite well, although was not as profitable as other regions.  Part of his job was to increase performance and make the UK business a viable competitor within the group, for future investment and growth.

After being in the role about a month, the MD asked his senior leadership team to come together and standing before them, he laid out his plans for producing extraordinary performance and described what he saw as possible for the business. While the strategy was comprehensive, the plans were ambitious and the presentation was enrolling, what really struck me was his authenticity and willingness to be vulnerable.

He said to his team; “This is what I see as possible and this is what I’m committed to. But I haven’t worked in this industry before, I don’t have the history with the workforce and I need your help. I can see what is possible and I want to make this business an attractive opportunity for investment and growth, but I don’t have all the answers and I can’t do it on my own.”

He wasn’t saying this to try and look good, or just to get everyone’s buy inches was willing to stand in front of the people he was about to ‘take into battle’ and tell them that he didn’t have all the answers and needed their help. He spoke from his own humanity and shared not only his vision but his vulnerabilities as well.

In his article for the Harvard Business Review – “Leaders Win Trust When They Show a Bit of Humanity”,  Tim Leberecht writes that it is impossible to expect leaders to be “…super-machines or super-humans, or both…” and that it is through their humanity and vulnerability that they are the most powerful.

It takes a huge amount of courage for leaders to show their vulnerability, as they, like all people, are worried about not only ‘looking good’ but protecting themselves. In her Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown shares from her own research and findings on vulnerability and says that one of the most fundamental needs of a human being is connection. While we all crave a sense of belonging and connection with our peers, our families, our friends and colleagues, it takes letting ourselves “be seen”, really seen for who we are, for that authentic connection to be there. Owning our own vulnerabilities, rather than trying to hide them is our access to this.

For me, there is no more powerful way for a leader to inspire their people, demonstrate their courage and lead by example than authentically sharing not only their commitments but their vulnerabilities as well as. By knowing what someone is committed to, we see who they are forging themselves to be in the world and where they are leading us. By seeing their vulnerabilities, we feel connected to them and inspired to be by their side to the end.