Poor leadership is everywhere, costing businesses millions of dollars. One of the factors behind it -- a true blind spot for most people in management roles -- is their inability to display this one strength of the most exceptional leaders:

Vulnerability.

As counter-intuitive as the rest of this article will be, there's immense power in in being openly vulnerable. It allows a leader to emotionally connect with his or her employees -- the very definition of employee engagement. And when employees connect above the neck with their leaders, they will walk through walls for them.

Marcus Lemonis on Vulnerability

Serial entrepreneur and investor Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of Camping World and star of CNBC's "The Profit," swears by it. He regularly admits to his own weaknesses and mistakes by showing vulnerability. Lemonis tells CNBC:

So often in business we think that a very proper and stern way of conducting ourselves as 'know it alls' and macho men and women is the way to be. But I actually believe that business is built on relationships. Relationships are built on trust, and trust is built on vulnerability and transparency. The key for me in building these relationships with business owners is by starting by unveiling myself first and uncovering my mistakes and my frailties and my weaknesses so that they can be comfortable uncovering theirs.

Scary proposition for many, but Lemonis clears the air. For him, being vulnerable has one defining purpose: "It's to try to create relatability between people," he says.

Richard Branson and Vulnerability

Billionaire Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, is well-known for this quote: "Transparency, straightforwardness and simplicity are true to the Virgin way of doing business."

But can you get more vulnerable than publicly sharing about something so personal as your near-death cycling experience, where he told the world, "I really thought I was going to die." That's being vulnerable, and it drew millions closer to Branson.

In Harvard Business Review's 10 Must Reads on Leadership, Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, Europe's leading experts on organizational culture, leadership and change, discovered that inspirational leaders display the quality of "selectively showing their weakness."

In their research, they describe Branson as being particularly effective at communicating his vulnerability. "He is ill at ease and fumbles incessantly when interviewed in public. It's a weakness, but it's Richard Branson," state the authors. "That's what revealing a weakness is all about: showing your followers that you are genuine and approachable - human and humane."

Brené Brown on Vulnerability

Best-selling author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown says vulnerability is "the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change."

Dr. Brown's now-historic and viral Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, has already solidified the importance of vulnerability in the workplace, and how critical it is for leaders to connect with and inspire others.

But before we can even accept its strengths and leverage its power, we first need to convince ourselves to get over the biggest myths surrounding vulnerability .

One of the biggest myths? That vulnerability implies weakness.

In her research, Brown says that vulnerability is not a weakness but one of our most accurate measures of courage. She tells Inc.'s Leadership Forum a few years back, "I cannot find a single incident of courage that is not completely underpinned by vulnerability ... Think about the last time you saw someone do something that was brave, and I guarantee you vulnerability will be there."

Practicing Vulnerability

Some might say this is all too touchy-feely, and there's no place for it in business. Others might say they're not wired for it, that it's not in their DNA.

Truth is, anybody living under the sun can be vulnerable because, at its essence, it's about developing trust -- the backbone of successful leadership. Employees and leaders who trust one another learn to be comfortable being open to one another around their failures, weaknesses, even fears. The key: Having the courage to show up with emotional honesty.

Since vulnerability -- like any other leadership behavior -- takes practice, there are ways to help you train yourself (and your brain) to do it:

1. Ask for help.

Vulnerable leaders have no qualms about knowing everything or having all the answers. They don't pretend to be "the expert." They leverage the skills of their knowledge workers on the frontlines who know more than they do, and ask for their help. They'll seek out information, guidance, and ideas to get clear on direction and strategy. When you start asking your employees for help, a funny thing happens: They'll want to step up and help, and it spreads outwardly. Your workforce's loyalty and commitment will rise.

2. Be "present" with your feelings.

Lets be real, we all have moments when we don't feel like the sharpest tool in the shed. If you feel embarrassed, uncertain, or ashamed of something, strength in vulnerability will show up with statements like, "I have a confession to make" or "I'm really not sure where to go with this, what would you do in my situation?" Being vulnerable gives your team members permission to do the same. You will experience more connection and more honest conversations as a result.

3. Share personal stories and mistakes made.

Personal stories will let your tribe know that you are human and imperfect just like the rest of them. By sharing the mistakes you've made and the lessons you learned from them, people will no longer fear and hide when they make theirs. Story-telling as an authentic human lets your tribe know you've been in their shoes, and helps you connect emotionally with them.

4. Accept that you're not Superman.

The mindset of a vulnerable leader begins with releasing the false notion that he has to be perfect, strong, and confident all the time. Having this Superman mentality of taking on problems on his own without asking for help stems from unhealthy hubris, not humility. When employees start seeing a leader's authentic self showing up in his humanity, who's just like them -- with real problems, struggles and challenges -- they will huddle around that leader and walk through the fire with them.

5. Be your word.

This means following through on promises. Failure to be your word may lead to people questioning a leader's integrity and reliability. For example, ever trust a person who lets you down a number of times? Yeah, he doesn't keep his and it's a reflection of his character. Vulnerable and authentic leaders do what they say they're going to do -- it's a matter of integrity. Their word means something to them, and they don't take it lightly.

Published on: Jun 28, 2017
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