What do Howard Schultz, Mark Zuckerberg and authors of countless articles remind us is an essential trait for any leader and those who don’t show it are struggling to be transparent, admit mistakes and grow their businesses? Vulnerability.
Vulnerability is like sunscreen: Fail to apply it and you will get burned -- maybe not immediately but eventually and then over and over again. Yet, many leaders still think vulnerability undermines their strength. Not a week goes by without someone questioning me about the need for it and saying it makes them look weak.
Historically, being vulnerable as a leader was viewed as a sign of weakness. But in today’s business climate, the speed of change forces us as leaders to bring others into the fold much quicker. Let’s face it, no one has all the answers -- and when we think we do, the marketplace tells us otherwise. Most leaders, regardless of hierarchy or rank, would be better served by being vulnerable enough to admit that they need others and that what got them here won’t get them there.
This is not a joke.
So why do so many leaders ignore or fail to understand the importance of transparency? Many reasons: we often don’t see power in transparency, and admitting we may not know everything is one reason I have covered before. But the biggest reason is we don’t believe that others can help -- we see power in resistance not relationships.
But the opposite is true: to build trust and have influence, leaders must be courageous to be vulnerable and vulnerable to be courageous.
In times of renewal, reinvention and transformation, we must be even more vulnerable to connect to all people and correct the mistakes of the past in order to grow and evolve in the future. Vulnerability brings us together -- it’s a sign of a confident leader who can build trust with people even in times of great uncertainty. Without that vulnerability, you project overconfidence which erodes trust.
How would your people rank your vulnerability as it relates to your leadership style and approach? Here are three steps you can take right now to ensure that you are mastering this essential trait:
1. Ditch anything that says “annual” or “quarterly” on it.
They’re probably just gathering dust anyway. This expectation for speed has now disrupted the way all business is done today in even the oldest legacy companies in industries like insurance, healthcare and retail. These businesses now understand the importance of getting feedback from their customers regularly to adapt and course-correct to move the brand forward.
So why do so many leaders stay beholden to the templates of the past -- particularly the dinosaurs of annual plans and reporting. If you only connected with your closest relationships -- in business and in life -- every year or 90 days, what would they think of you?
2. Make sure you touch the business as much as you lead it.
The success of “Undercover Boss” taught us in prime time the consequences of leaders losing touch as they grow and becoming more beholden to shareholders and the bottom line than the individuals they serve. To know what you don’t know, you can’t just lead out front. You must also lead from behind, lead across and lead parallel to your employees. This is why strong-headed leaders who cannot admit mistakes are struggling. They become out of touch. Ask yourself, are you doing things just to make your numbers and get paid? Or are you evolving to grow yourself and your business in the workplace and marketplace? The vulnerable leader sees value in the latter; the overconfident leader touts the former.
3. Solve for the right opportunities.
We live in uncertain times. Best-laid plans can fail just as easily as haphazard ones, and suddenly, the trajectory of their businesses are not what they thought. This is when overconfidence consumes too many leaders and leads them down the path of solving for the wrong opportunities by staying the course or saying it must be done their way. They think their title entitles them to push forward instead of having the confidence vulnerability gives you. Vulnerability allows your wisdom to be shared. It brings others into the fold quickly to react and influence the solution and uncover new opportunities. That’s when vulnerable leaders win.
Remember: Confidence comes from working for a healthy whole that leads to seeing and seizing opportunities previously unseen and then growing and sharing them for the betterment of your industry, communities, business and, most of all, your people.