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How To Be A Vulnerable Leader (and Still Be “professional”)

How to Be a Vulnerable Leader (and still be “professional”)

Vanessa Judelman

President, Mosaic People Development

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, author Brene Brown says that human connection is the key to providing us with meaning in our lives. She says that it is our relationships with others that helps us to thrive and survive in a world that can be so uncertain.

If this is true, then why do we as human beings and as leaders build huge brick walls around ourselves to prevent meaningful connections with others? This seems counter intuitive. However, in a recent conversation with my coach (vulnerability alert!!), we talked about my personal experiences that have led me to build my own brick walls. I am going to share one of these experiences with you because I believe that it is an experience that many of you can relate to. It is the immigrant experience.

When I was seven years old, my family immigrated from South African to Toronto. I had never really reflected on that experience much until I had this conversation with my coach. After talking about it, I realized that leaving my home, school, close family and friends for a new life in Canada was actually a very challenging experience for a little girl. This was the first experience in my memory where I realized that life can be difficult and challenging. I learned at seven years old that being far away from loved ones can be very painful. So, my first brick wall was cemented.

What does this story have to do with leadership?

Well, human connection is critically important for leaders. A leader can have authority but not develop “followership” because they are unable to build high-trust relationships with their team. Yes, we all need personal boundaries at work but do you put up too many walls for fear of appearing overly vulnerable? What might this look like at work?

Here are a few examples:

  • I avoid giving feedback for fear of hurting someone’s feelings
  • I don’t own up to a mistake for fear of appearing imperfect
  • I worry for weeks about a comment that I made for fear of sounding stupid or saying something inappropriate

I’ve got news for you! People want feedback from their leaders, so let down your guard and give it!

People respect leaders who take ownership over their mistakes and fix them.

People are not thinking about you or your comments, actions and behaviours. They are likely too stuck in their own worlds, worrying about their own issues.

When I say “put down your walls and be more vulnerable”, I do not mean that you need to share your deepest, darkest secrets with your team. Quite the contraire. Keep some personal boundaries. However, it is important to take down the right walls. For example, make the time to share a story with your team that reflects on a failure and what you learned from the situation. Or pluck up the courage to give some constructive feedback and do not worry about being liked so much. Focus more on being respected and helping your team to grow and develop.

Being vulnerable means that you need to take down one or two bricks in your “security wall”. This means that you are choosing to be vulnerable at work in the right way. It’s about showing your humanity. Doing this will help you to connect with others and develop the “followership” that every leader needs to get great results.

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