While everyone has a different answer to the question, "What does it take to be an effective leader?" vulnerability is not often on the radar as a leadership strength.

But it should be. The phenomenon of self-disclosure and leadership has been studied extensively and there are true benefits of being a vulnerable leader.

Dr. Carol Grannis, Chief Self-Esteem Officer for Self Esteem Brands, the parent company of Anytime Fitness (the world's No.1 "Top Global" franchise) and Waxing The City, conducted a research study on leadership vulnerability in the workplace and the power of self-disclosure.

After she viewed Brené Brown's monumental 2010 Ted Talk, she recalled powerful moments in her career when she witnessed leaders self-disclosing a mistake or emotion with team members.  In those instances, the positive energy and authenticity between the leaders and their staff were palpable. 

So she set out to understand the perspectives of senior leaders, and why they engaged in this self-disclosure behavior and what they believed was the impact their behaviors had on their teams and, specifically, on their role as leader.

3 steps to becoming a vulnerable leader

Grannis concludes that successful leadership includes sharing your whole self, not just your strengths but your weaknesses too. Sharing your own perceived weaknesses may mean that you share an emotion, a mistake where you risk being vulnerable.

The problem is that this is never encouraged or addressed as a leadership development best practice. Vulnerability is a scary thing but its impact on the positive relationships between a leader and their employees is invaluable.

Here are 3 simple, initial steps to take in becoming a vulnerable leader:

1. Self-awareness as a condition of self-disclosure.

When leaders understand their strengths and weaknesses and have confidence in themselves, they will be more comfortable in engaging in self-disclosure. Start with self-awareness, grow your emotional intelligence, and then act on self-disclosure.

2.  Storytelling as a strategy of self-disclosure.

Try storytelling a mistake, sharing personal information, being silly with your staff, and/or having one-on-one meetings to allow for a more naturally vulnerable conversation. When you plan the use and execution of storytelling, you'll reap the advantages it has in building trust.

3.  Physically express emotion as a strategy of self-disclosure.

Showing your emotions is seen as weak and an intrusion on the business of work. But Grannis says displaying the full array of your human emotions allow others to feel more connected to your honesty, forgiveness, tolerance, and wisdom. Plain and simple, just be human. 

Combined, this will help build trust, provide relief to staff because they feel they can take risks and make mistakes, increase your leader-employee connection, and boost learning--all while growing your bottom line.

Published on: Mar 26, 2019
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