I have written before about how one of the superpowers any leader can have is transparency. Well, it turns out that there's another complementary superpower any leader needs if they want to build trust in a way that gets people to follow and execute on the vision you create--vulnerability.
Unlike Superman, whose only weakness is Kryptonite, a leader can be undone by thinking that he or she is invincible and that they can't possibly be wrong or make a mistake. If you want to be a great leader, you need to open yourself up.
1. Get Off Your Pedestal
We must realize that, as leaders, we can be intimidating at times. Maybe it's the big title, or the length of our résumé in terms of experience or education. Or maybe that it's that we seem to know every nook and cranny inside the business and what makes it tick. All of that can be a lot for the other people inside the organization to stand up to.
At a personal level, I never considered myself intimidating to my team when I ran companies. But eventually someone was brave enough to give me the truth and told me that I was highly intimidating. I certainly wasn't going for that, but clearly presented myself in a way that suppressed others who didn't have the temerity to address me directly. I needed to make changes to get the best out of myself and my team.
What do we do with that information? How can we, as leaders, be less intimidating? That's where being vulnerable comes in.
2. Ask for Help
When I say be vulnerable, I mean that you can admit that you are able to make mistakes and that you don't have all the answers. In short: You're far from perfect. It is scary, because many leaders have at least some imposter syndrome and becoming vulnerable exposes them to being "found out." This is where confidence without arrogance is so important.
I know, I know, some of you might not agree and think you are quite close to perfect. But if you truly want people to relate to you and trust your judgment, you need to be able to admit when you're wrong and that you need help from your team to make the company better.
Your goal is to eliminate the intimidation in a way that encourages everyone to bring their best ideas to the table, even if the possibility exists that you might not like them.
The catch here is that you can't fake it until you make it with being vulnerable. People will smell that from a mile away and it doesn't smell good. If you try to pretend that you aren't the smartest person in the room, while secretly smiling to yourself because you think that's true, then you stand a great chance at losing the crowd. Your reactions to the ideas and feedback you give will be a red flag about how you really feel.
3. Always Share Why
Another element to being vulnerable is to show that you are trustworthy. That means you do what you say you're going to do and that you stick to your commitments--always.
But, just as important, it means that if you do change your mind when it comes to something, you are willing to be vulnerable and explain to the team why you decided to change your mind. Anyone who has children knows that they want to know why you made a certain decision, and adults are no different. As leaders, there can be a constant need to change our positions because of the latest data. But you can't just make that change without explaining to your team why you decided to make the change. Some leaders make the case that the issue is too complex for the team to understand their rationale. But this is a false assumption. If it's a complex issue, then it's on you as the leader to break it down in a way that they can understand the circumstances. Making things simple is hard, but avoiding the hard work of making things understandable doesn't work if you want followership.
4. Take the Next Step
If you're struggling to get your employees engaged or if you're looking for some fresh perspective on how you can become a better leader, you can start by working on developing a new superpower and being vulnerable. Think about ways you can admit you're fallible and not the smartest person in the world while also making yourself open to explaining the rationale behind your big decisions. If you can do that, you'll find you've not only boosted engagement among your team, but you've won their trust as well.