What do I speak of? The widely-held notion that vulnerability is, indeed, a leadership strength displayed by the best entrepreneurs.
Okay, everyone take a collective deep breath. This is backed by fact.
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.
So what do you gain by being vulnerable? A lot -- like saving your whole company from going under, as was the case of India-based, technology startup Hubbl.
Harvard Business Review tells the story that after running out of funds, founder Archana Patchirajan broke the news to her staff that they had to be let go.
Instead of packing, as HBR tells it, they refused and committed to working for 50 percent of their pay than leave their boss. A few years later, Hubbl was sold for $14 million.
What drove them to stay? Employees cite being treated like family, having a personal relationship with the founder, and having the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
When you boil it down, Patchirajan was vulnerable and authentic with them, even during the worst of times.
The Importance of Vulnerability In Your Business
Some might say this is all too touchy-feely, and inappropriate for business. Others may say they're just not wired for it -- it's not in their personality makeup. Let me tell you why none of these things are true.
Vulnerability is about 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.
Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the simple--and practical idea--that people who aren't afraid to admit the truth are not going to engage in the kind of political drama that sucks away everyone's time and energy, and more importantly, gets in the way of accomplishing goals and results.
Sue Desmond-Hellmann, head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently told The Washington Post about why vulnerability is so key in leading others.
She says one of the biggest lessons she learned as a leader is to be open and honest about disappointment, failure, or sadness -- not to smooth it over, or in any way feel like you don't face it directly.
The Application of Vulnerability In Your Business
As hard as it is to get to that level of vulnerability-based trust, it is totally doable. While some teams will work together for years and still distrust one another, others who have been together just a few weeks or months develop an amazing amount of trust.
The key? In one word: Courage.
It's going to take courage to show up with emotional honesty.
It's going to take courage to accept our shortcomings, or the things we are ashamed of as leaders and founders.
It's going to take courage to release ourselves from the erroneous thinking that we have to be perfect and can't make mistakes, have flaws, or be human.
It will take courage to open dialog about our mistakes, our failures and take accountability for them.
It will take courage to admit our uncertainty in troubled times, and that we don't have all the answers.
Since vulnerability -- like any other leadership behavior -- takes practice, you need to do these four things consistently to get you on the path to relational excellence:
1. Increase self-awareness.
This means knowing your strengths but also your blind spots. It's what you don't know about yourself that controls you.
Ask yourself introspective questions like...
- Why do the same issues keep coming up over and over?
- Why do I respond to situations with (insert a negative emotion here)?
- What makes me think, act and feel the way I do? What pushes my buttons.
2. Lead from the heart.
Most of us have the "head" part down, but leading from the heart means genuinely looking after the needs of others by engaging them on an emotional level. You do it by respecting, valuing, and developing them to succeed.
3. Listen to understand.
This is the most forgotten leadership skill -- to listen to understand instead of replying. This means authentically listening to "get" other people's joys, frustrations, learning about their values, and connecting to their deepest wishes and dreams.
4. 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, say it!
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?" or "I need some help here."
Getting it out in the open creates a space for authenticity and truth. That's what we, as leaders, should model and replicate inside our organizations.
Being vulnerable gives your team members permission to do the same. You will experience more connection and more honest conversations as a result.