Emotional Intelligence

Turn Your Vulnerabilities Into Leadership Strengths in 3 Steps

Your team already knows you're flawed, so you actually gain when you admit you are.
Turn Your Vulnerabilities Into Leadership Strengths in 3 Steps
Image credit: 10'000 Hours | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Leadership & Performance Consultant
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Instant access to a myriad of best practice leadership skills and strategies can be retrieved in seconds with the click of a few keyboard keys. Amazon’s digital library is overflowing with well-researched and documented tips and techniques, however, there are unique differences in some of the world’s most innovative companies that simply can’t be matched and you’re unlikely to find them in a how-to book.

Leaders of elite teams can no longer get away with regurgitating best-practice prophecy from the latest TED talks for Monday morning’s weekly meeting. In addition to professional development activities they’re probably doing on their own accord, these individuals need something -- or someone else -- to inspire them. That person is you.

What many leaders fail to realize is their team is inspired by both how they have experienced struggles and overcome adversity as well as the successes. Revealing deepest, darkest secrets is not necessary but recognizing and safely sharing weaknesses, things you may not be proud of and mistakes you have made, can massively increase your integrity and your team’s loyalty. If the suggestion of revealing what lays beneath the armor scares you, here are three steps you can take you from a leader of high performers to a leader of the ultimate elite.

Related: Being Vulnerable Is the Boldest Act of Business Leadership

1. Get good at recognizing and embracing your vulnerabilities.

Great leaders recognize their shortfalls and recruit people to help them in areas whey they themselves fall short. This doesn’t just apply for technical aspects of running successful businesses. Your business is a reflection of you; it represents your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Consider self-reflection on your character and personality traits.

Perhaps you trust people too much or not enough. You might have been swindled and robbed blind of your hard-earned cash so badly in the past that you are now hyper-vigilant and become anxious at the thought of outsourcing. Maybe your money management skills are lacking. You can manage it but you can’t generate or leverage it anywhere near as well. There will likely be hard-wired, underlying patterns that have developed which cause you to behave these ways. Take time to get familiar with this and acknowledge them for the role they play in your life. They all have a purpose. The key is to identify which ones could do with updating.

Whilst capitalizing on your strengths certainly builds business confidence, proactively and fully acknowledging your vulnerabilities places you in an even stronger position of power. You can get better at predicting what challenges might push your buttons. Admit to how those challenges are likely to affect you and self-evaluate your current resilience capacity. Develop strategies to best prepare you to weather the potential damage. Strategically and carefully identify and find people you trust who will stand in your corner during battle. You might not be able to prevent being hit but you will recover and bounce back faster.

Related: The Dangers of Being an Empathetic Leader

2. Tell your stories of hardship.

This is not about looking to share your own hardship experiences when one of your team is struggling. It’s not about you; it’s about them. What is important is how you use your personal stories to show you appreciate the mental and emotional turmoil of their plight.

Research by Professor Sigal Barsade and Assistant Professor Olivia O’Neill revealed how this type of companionate love workplace culture increases employee accountability, work satisfaction, teamwork and engagement yet decreases burnout and absenteeism. Stories of your own failings and darkest times not only increase your relatability; they validate your team’s struggle. You demonstrate it is safe for your people to admit failure, shame, guilt and fear. When you do this, you take the bonds, loyalty and commitment of your team to unmatchable, irreplaceable levels.

Related: Here's How to Earn and Keep the Loyalty of Your Customers

3. Stop your quest for power and practice ways to say you messed up.

Whilst positive thinking psychology techniques have shown to massively improve our mindset and mental health in general, what isn’t getting the airplay it deserves is admitting when things aren’t great. Master of changing hats in elite roles, Jeremy Bloom describes in his book Fueled by Failure how the weight of admitting failure provides a liberating physical and mental release from the shackles of shame, guilt and disappointment.

Despite being heralded as the first person ever to go from Olympic and world champion skier to being drafted into the NFL, Bloom experienced extremely dark emotional episodes. His transitions actually transpired out of difficult recoveries from his sporting failures that were on public display to the world. Now founder and CEO of non-profit organization Wish of a Lifetime, Bloom has become exceptional at bouncing back again with big thanks in part to mastering an ability to admit and process defeat.

The notion that admitting fault is a sign of weakness and incompetence is a gross misconception. Projecting yourself as an infallible superhuman only creates a greater disparity between you and your team. In fact, research conducted by Adam Galinsky and his research associates at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University revealed that increased power makes one prone to dismiss the perspectives of others who lack authority. In addition, researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada found that people in power lose the ability to be empathetic toward others because power affects the brain’s mirror system.

It seems the pursuit of power and control will shorten your shelf-life when it comes to earning and keeping the respect and loyalty of your team. Consider developing just two or three short, sharp phrases that denote you’ve made a mistake and disintegrate the damning effects of a power trip. Let detailed explanations come later. If this level of transparency is beyond your comfort zone, develop code language which is familiar to those few you truly trust as you work toward becoming a proficient communicator of when times are both good and bad.

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