In our current situation, we all feel vulnerable. How can you not with the uncertainty of when and how the Covid-19 pandemic will end? After all, no one had a contingency plan for an illness of this scale and its impact on the world economy. We have many experts talking at us, but frankly, many of us are not sure who we can trust. This makes me think of an HBO miniseries called “Show me a Hero.” We are looking for a hero now - a superhero made of steel who could wipe out this whole virus, restoring us to normal! But we don’t live in a movie. So where can we find a hero like this in “real life”? Someone who has the skills to lead us through these extraordinary times?
Experts from around the world are being called upon to collaborate, share knowledge and data and design action plans to see us through these extraordinary times. Among them, there are many “super” leaders emerging and they exhibit some common behaviors to earn our trust. It takes transparency, straight talk, listening, accountability, commitment and exhibiting that we can trust each other. We are already in a vulnerable state going against a biological foe we can’t yet stop. Placing our trust in people and nations around the world that are not always allies, makes us feel even more vulnerable. Our knee-jerk reaction is to go into a protective mode and take care of ourselves first. To be successful, though, we need to collaborate and reveal our truly vulnerable side.
Pre-COVID-19, which feels like a year ago at times, Hillary Clinton was getting a lot of attention in the press. Not because she was going to throw her name back in the ring for presidency, but because of some of her interviews and a documentary with Bill Clinton regarding the Monica Lewinski scandal. People were commenting on the vulnerability they witnessed from Hillary Clinton for the first time. The sentiments were, she was “relatable,” they could sympathize with her situation and reaction to the scandal. Her previously stoic, public “mask” had dropped and they could see her authentic reaction to a situation that tore at the foundation of her marriage. People were stating, “If I had seen this side of Hillary before, I would have voted for her.” Why is that? Why is showing perceived weakness, emotions, and vulnerability attractive in a leader?
Many times, I have heard the person that wins an election is the one you want to have a beer with. They are a real person that you can talk to and have an open exchange with. We want to see transparency in our leaders to understand their integrity and intent; when we can witness a person’s motives and moral compass in action, we can better gauge our allegiance to that leader. Hillary had experienced a life-altering moment and people could not understand her response or lack thereof; Through these new interviews the mask was off and the audience could get a sense of how she might react in other situations. It made others relate to her as a real person who has been through a traumatic situation.
Courage is an attribute we can easily identify as an asset in a leader. When we think of courage, we see it as an absence of fear or being tough, but courage is also a willingness to reveal vulnerabilities. Vulnerability and courage together foster a space for “productive failure” according to Brene Brown author of “Dare to Lead,” meaning we learn from the failure and that knowledge becomes an asset. Now, more than ever, organizations are focused on driving innovation. Communities and organizations around the world are trying to innovate to see us through this pandemic. Leaders who demonstrate vulnerability and don’t penalize their teams for taking risks and demonstrating courage through innovation will be seen as true leaders and winners, not just in 2020 but going forward. Superhero leaders create a safe space where the team shares wild ideas vulnerably and then exhibits the courage to try to see it to fruition.
Shows You are Listening
No one knows everything. Yet many times, we feel that as advisors and experts, we should have all the answers. In “Getting Naked” by Patrick Lencioni, he highlights the power of not walking into a meeting spewing all the information you know. Tremendous trust is built when you “listen first” according to Stephen M. R. Covey. There is also the famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” One fundamental way to demonstrate that you care is to listen. People always want to be heard, especially in times of need. But stopping to listen, gathering all the facts and possibly saying “I don’t know but I’ll find out” can make us feel vulnerable or feel like we are ill-prepared. Yet your vulnerable honesty and commitment to find possible solutions reinforces the trust earned. Demonstrating behaviors like listening and transparency create trust which will be the ultimate dividend.
Vulnerability is an attribute that enables many of our other leadership skills to shine. Like any strength, though, it can become a weakness when over-used. Be mindful that when being more vulnerable, you want to balance honesty with over-sharing. With most clients and colleagues, do not reveal the deepest, most intimate details of your life, which can create awkwardness and impact the culture you are trying to create negatively. Reveal who you are. Share low moments and how you were able to overcome them. Tell stories of transformation to inspire, motivate, and, create relatability. Successful “super leaders” are able to accomplish all of this.
We will get past this current crisis, and when we do, there will be many leaders who shine; some will even seem like superheroes. But if we pretend we do not feel confused, uncertain, and ultimately vulnerable right now, we will not seem human to others and will lose their trust. We cannot lead without trust. Harness the powerful outcomes resulting when you convey vulnerability like courage, innovation, and trust. Seize the opportunity to step into leadership roles without a suit of armor. Instead, make yourself available and vulnerable to effectively connect and lead.