Vulnerability – the human side of leadership
Leaders are often held at an untouchable stature in the business world, which makes vulnerability seem synonymous with weakness.
However, showing vulnerability allows leaders to connect with their employees on a human level. When employees feel that they can relate to their leaders, they are more engaged in their work, and leaders who are open and transparent create an environment of trust and respect, which ultimately leads to greater employee engagement.
Eliminating toxic positivity
While positivity can improve performance, research by Harvard Business Review suggests that trying to ignore negative emotions makes us feel worse. It can also create a gap between leaders and their teams, if there is an illusion that leaders don’t struggle at all, decreasing the well-being of both, leaders and employees. In addition, it creates a risk to undermining work relationships and reducing self-confidence and psychological safety in the workplace. On the other hand, sharing negative emotions can lessen their impact on the leaders, build empathy and encourage others to open up about their own struggles.
The ability to embrace vulnerability drives innovation and creativity, as well as risk-taking – all elements being critical drivers of success. vulnerability permeates the organisational culture with an openness that can lead to greater innovation and performance overall. When leaders are open about their own limitations, it creates a space for employees to do the same. This vulnerability can foster trust and collaboration, as well as a sense of shared purpose. In addition, it allows employees to see that their leaders can make mistakes and recognise them, as well as to feel empowered to take risks and innovate.
Building a psychologically safe workplace
Psychological safety is a feeling of trust and confidence that is derived from the respectful treatment of team members, so they can take risks, learn from mistakes and grow individually and collectively. When leaders show vulnerability, they have better performance conversations and connect with their team at a deeper level, establish a risk-taking culture in the workplace, improve morale and motivation, as well as reduce employee turnover.
Leadership challenges are an opportunity to show vulnerability and connect with employees who may be facing similar difficulties, confront a challenge head-on and speak truthfully. Leaders' priority should be for their employees to feel comfortable saying what they think but also calling out behaviour that falls short of the organisation’s values – and in the event of such a discussion, leaders should focus on finding solutions rather than pointing fingers at one another.
Vulnerability is not just the absence of weakness, but a deeply human capacity to be transparent. At its core, vulnerability is about being brave, open and honest with ourselves and others. The mutual benefits of vulnerability are felt across organisations by improving a leader’s skillset, engaging employees and improving organisations’ culture.
Being vulnerable without appearing weak starts by taking ownership of your feelings and ideas, and seeking out feedback and input can lead to much stronger relationships with employees. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering training and development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops, and coaching programs, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programs for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programs please contact Simon at email@example.com.