Has your team been underperforming and not meeting your expectations? One of the root causes of poor team performance is low engagement by employees.
Now, there are a multitude of reasons that cause employee disengagement, but poor leadership is a big one. And one of the factors behind poor leadership, which leaders themselves often overlook, is their inbility to let themselves be vulnerable. How is vulnerability a leadership attribute that impacts engagement?
The answer is that being vulnerable allows a leader to emotionally connect with employees. And when employees have a strong emotional connection to a manager or CEO, they will walk through fire for them.
A great example of the power of vulnerability comes from entrepreneur Archana Patchirijan, founder of Hubbl, who announced to her team that she had to let all of them go because the company had run out of cash. Her employees refused to hear it. In fact, they said they were willing to have their pay cut in half in order to keep the company afloat.
Why would all of these highly skilled engineers do this? The reason was that they'd witnessed Patchirajan sharing her doubts along the way and treating each employee like a family member.
What does vulnerability from you, as leader, look like to employees? They see you as being honest when you admit you have doubts and don’t have all of the answers. It means they admire you for admitting to and "owning" the mistakes you've made, large and small.
Leaders also demonstrate vulnerability when they have the courage to be human and show their emotions in a purposeful way, sharing their personal stories, which connect emotionally to other people.
Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness or being submissive, and it’s not about sharing your deepest, most personal secrets. When it's purposeful, vulnerability is a strength that can provide the leaders expressing it with a number of benefits.
So, if being vulnerable is a leadership strength, why don’t more leaders practice it? Bottom line: fear and ego. Being vulnerable requires taking emotional risks and letting go of pretenses that leaders believe are required of them. They have to admit that they don’t know all the answers and that being wrong is okay -- just as it is okay for the people they lead.
What steps can you take to start practicing being vulnerable?
1. Sit and actively listen while others control the conversation.
If you are used to driving conversations, this technique will feel uncomfortable. As a leader, when you are able to let go of a conversation's direction, you provide space for other voices, opinions and ideas.
2. Use personal stories that connect emotionally with employees. Demonstrate that you've been in their shoes.
Most leaders and business owners don't realize that employees often see their leaders as different from them. Personal stories will show your employees that you are human and imperfect just like them.
3. Admit to making mistakes and explain how you learned from them.
When you admit to your mistakes, you're announcing to employees that mistakes are tolerated as long as they aren't repeated. Ultimately, you will receive more bad news that can best be corrected sooner rather than later. People will no longer be hiding their mistakes.
4. Ask for help when you don’t know the answer, because you don’t have all the answers.
The reason you have a team of employees is that you can't know it all. When you start asking for help, guess what? People will want to step up and help. I remember the first time that I admitted to my team that I needed help. I felt as though I had dumped a huge load of bricks; I felt such relief.
5. Let go of your belief that you have to always show strength, confidence and perfection as a business leader.
Once you start practicing being vulnerable, employees will see you as an authentic human being, who's just like them. And, guess what? People like people who are like them more than those who are different. That's human nature.
When people really like you, they will do amazing things, like walking through those fires to rescue you.