When we teach sessions on leadership development, we introduce our participants to a list of leadership attributes that represent the characteristics most cited as being desirable in a leader. We frequently ask our audiences to look at our Leadership Attributes list to see if there is anything on it that they don’t like and don’t think should be included on the list. Almost always, someone chooses the attribute of “vulnerability.” Most people associate vulnerability with weakness and view it as a negative and undesirable trait to have. But, as a personality characteristic, it demonstrates your humanity, being “real” with people, and not trying to portray a false image of perfection. It is true that many definitions of the word reference susceptibility and portray it as indicating weakness. But, the term can also refer to a person who lets their guard down, leaving themselves open to censure or criticism.
About eight years ago, I became a certified coach and when I completed my training program, my instructor, Eddie gave me some positive feedback about my coaching style and said “You have a vulnerability in your voice that I don’t often see, even in very experienced coaches.” I take this as a compliment and attribute it to the fact that when I am coaching my clients, I don’t believe that I have all of the answers. In fact, I believe that they know themselves and what they need to do better than anyone else and my job is to help them uncover those answers.
Sometimes being vulnerable is about releasing the need to know everything and to be right, admitting that you have made a mistake, or having the courage to ask for help. How vulnerable are you with your team? Are you willing to reveal the areas in which you are challenged so that others can be more informed when working with you and offer their assistance and support? If you would like your team members to be more supportive, consider that you may need to be the first to be truly vulnerable – which is what effective leaders do.
When you demonstrate vulnerability as a leader, you are a more relatable leader. You can actually endear people to you, and inspire them because when you develop relatedness, you become the kind of leader that they can aspire to be. However, if you put on a perfect façade, your people may think to themselves, “Oh, I could never be like that.” It is unfortunate when the people that look up to you don’t believe that they could ever fill your shoes. As Ralph Nader once said, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
As uncomfortable as it might sometimes feel, challenge yourself to let your guard down occasionally and reveal something about yourself to others. Aim to create a space where people feel comfortable and natural around you so that they may let their guard down as well. And remember, even Superman had his areas of vulnerability– Lois Lane and Kryptonite!
What is your perception of vulnerability? Can you see how it could be a positive trait to have? Let us know what you think by submitting a comment. We would love to hear your thoughts on the subject!