Vulnerability is a Fantastic Leadership Attribute, So Don’t Get Hung Up By The Word

1 February 2022

Compass For Life

These last few weeks I have been having some of the most incredible discussions with individuals from all walks of life as to what the key leadership attributes are. As always, the room is filled with shouts of ‘courage’, ‘bravery’ and ‘confidence’, and of course, these are some great qualities. 

But a leadership attribute superpower that is all too often overlooked is vulnerability.

It’s overlooked because the word vulnerability is instantly interpreted as weakness. It is not. 

Vulnerability as a ‘superpower’

Vulnerability is having the courage and self-awareness to be utterly honest about your emotions and thought processes. It is a human emotion to feel fear or uncertainty. From the battleground to the boardroom, I have and do feel fear. For me, it’s at that point where I become aware of that emotion, lean into it and either look to my team, my coach or another resource to help me reach my goal. 

And here’s the added impact, vulnerability builds trust and trust is what every high-performing team looks to achieve.

The consequence of lacking vulnerability

Today, I read headlines and articles that show there is an alarming lack of self-awareness and vulnerability amongst the leaders in the UK corridors of power. And, subsequently a decline in public trust and confidence. I wince as I read supposed statements of strength when what I really should be reading are reflections and accountable commitments to improvement. If the mindset switched from false displays of confidence to vulnerable displays of accountability, the trust barometer might not read so poorly. 

The benefits of being vulnerable

But, showing vulnerability doesn’t just happen when things are going wrong. In fact, it’s even more important when things are ticking along nicely. A leader that says, ‘I am not sure how to do this, but I know together we will find a way’, will gain both the respect of their team as well as inspire individuals to step up to the plate. 

Let’s take a sales leader as an example. Hitting a quarterly sales target is a moment for celebration, but what usually follows is a new more aggressive target. The leader has a choice, they can, of course, peacock themselves around the team meeting crowing about how they’ll ‘smash it’. Alternatively, they could calmly say, ‘this target is tough, I also feel the nerves, but, I think together we can meet this challenge head-on, who has some ideas?’

Do you see the difference? In one scenario, the leader gives little room for the team to share views, thoughts or indeed worries. They feel out of touch and ‘above it all’. In the other scenario, the leader has leveled with the team, shown vulnerability and moved to a position of combined commitment.

So, the next time you are looking to bring your team on board for the journey, look for a moment of authentic vulnerability and build trust from there.