How to be a great leader: the secret is vulnerability

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Great leader

The world is full of CEOs and leaders who think they know it all. The tech industry is especially guilty of it. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have all been called out for their aggressive leadership styles, characterised by arrogance, bravado, entitlement and self-absorption.

Yet many people aspire to be just like them. People often believe that being a great leader means being tough, in control, and right about everything. But the traditional notion of leadership is based on a very narrow idea of what it means to be a leader. The truth is, leaders are human too. And acting like one will only benefit your business. 

Why is vulnerability a strength?

When you talk about being vulnerable in the office, many people picture an over-sharer with no sense of boundaries, but being vulnerable doesn’t mean you need to share your deepest, darkest fears to anyone who’ll listen. Being vulnerable is about having the courage to admit that you’re only human and that you have strengths and weaknesses just like everybody else. It’s about not being afraid to admit when you make mistakes. 

Here are five reasons why being vulnerable is a strength. 

It’s more collaborative and it drives innovation

One of the greatest benefits of being a vulnerable leader is that it allows others to contribute. By admitting that you don’t have all the answers, you give space to your team to bring their ideas to the table. And by recognising your weaknesses, and helping your employees recognise theirs, you create a more collaborative and cohesive working environment where others are working to fill those gaps. 

It also sets an example to others that it’s okay to make mistakes – it’s okay to take risks, to try out new ideas, and to fail. This creates an environment where workers are comfortable to innovate and are more creative in their problem-solving. 

It improves communication

If a leader is unable to be open and honest, this attitude is likely to spread throughout the entire culture of an organisation. On the other hand, a leader who is open and genuine in their communication with others will set a good example for the rest of the team. Employees will know that it’s okay to share their thoughts and their ideas, and they’ll know it’s okay to have weaknesses. 

It also creates a more transparent workplace, where employees feel comfortable raising problems and issues, meaning your organisation will catch and resolve issues before too much damage is done.  

It builds trust

For a lot of industries and businesses, organisational structures have flattened, which means there’s no longer the person in the corner office dictating what, when and how.

Today’s workplaces are built on strong and genuine relationships that are founded on trust. And to build this kind of trust, you need to be honest. You can’t hide who you are or pretend to be something you’re not. 

Vulnerable leaders are better able to connect to their employees at an emotional level in an honest and genuine way. By showing them your weaknesses, you’re more relatable and your team will respect you more for not putting up a facade. This will not only build stronger relationships, but will also improve communication and teamwork. 

It makes you a more inclusive leader

One element of inclusive leadership (the practice of creating, leading and leveraging a diverse workplace), is creating an environment where employees feel that their diversity is appreciated. 

Inclusive leaders empower those they lead by creating an atmosphere where their team has the confidence to speak up. They do this by being humble about their own strengths and weaknesses, showing humility in admitting mistakes, learning from different points of view, and seeking input from others.

It creates a better working environment

When you have a leader who’s afraid to make mistakes (or afraid to admit to them), it can create a toxic working environment, where everyone is putting up a facade and pretending to be perfect. When a leader is closed, aloof or uncommunicative, it can lead to an atmosphere of competition, rather than collaboration, because everyone is scrambling to win; to please the boss; to be the best. This is one reason Amazon’s culture has been described as “punishing”, with reports of staff regularly crying at their desks. 

On the other hand, when employees and leaders are vulnerable enough to admit they don’t have all the answers, or they’ve made a mistake, it encourages others to be open in the same way, enabling them to ask for help when they need it, which in turn creates a more cohesive and collaborative environment, and reduces turnover.  

How to be a vulnerable leader

One major aspect of being a vulnerable leader is recognising your strengths and weaknesses. The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) is an assessment tool that can help you do this. 

The HBDI® defines the degree to which we think in the four separate quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model. It’s a tool to help you recognise and understand how you think, how others think, and how to learn from and leverage these preferences. 

The HBDI® gives you the insight to identify and understand your own thinking style. For example, say the HBDI identifies that you’re an experimental thinker. You can then accept and share with your team that due to your experimental thinking style, you’re great at seeing the big picture, but might not be the best at making detailed plans or analysing the numbers. 

Sharing this weakness with your team not only makes you more genuine and relatable, but it also enables you to overcome this limitation by leveraging the strengths of your team members and their different thinking styles. 

Want to improve communication, collaboration and productivity with an HBDI® Profile?

An HBDI® Team Profile can help your team recognise their strengths and weaknesses for more open and honest communication and a more cohesive and innovative working environment. Request a free consultation to get started.

How to be a great leader