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Early on in my career, I had a certain understanding of how to be a successful woman in the business world. Showing vulnerability and emotion was a weakness. I imagined the men in the group rolling their eyes at each other and saying, “This is what happens when you put women in charge.” It wasn’t until I ran a company that those beliefs changed.
Instead of weakness I have learned to show vulnerability implies courage. Keeping your distance with professional composure is comfortable; emotional display is associated with uncertainty and risk. Everyone has emotions, and feeling them completely and labeling them without judgment is part of the process to regulate them. When we ignore feelings of anger, sadness, or sadness, they can come back even more strongly and affect our ability to make balanced decisions. My experience as a leader has taught me that being vulnerable enough to share is better for the team.
Related: 3 Ways Vulnerability Makes Better Leaders
Get into the heart of social connections
My early fear of being seen as an “emotional woman” kept me from seeing my emotions, but often would be vulnerable in the service of the group’s objectives. When I felt guilty for having to travel all the time for work and miss my kids’ events, I harbored this negative emotion instead of talking about it and processing it. For example, never in a million years would I have asked my boss for time off to go to the dentist to fix a toothache. “Leave work?” I imagined they said. “Think about that on a Saturday.” So I would work through the distracting pain until I could handle it on my own time. But being vulnerable to that unknown risk so I could fix it and work at 100% would have been more valuable to the team.
Regardless of gender, everyone feels vulnerable because we are authentic and expose ourselves to who we are and what we really think and feel. Over time, I realized that my male colleagues experienced the same guilt and fear of working so much. We may speak a little differently about vulnerability, but most men and women now recognize that they experience it the same emotions, which has led to more discussion about vulnerability. These days I would never want anyone to think they had to ask me to go to the dentist. I’d rather they know I need them safe and sound, and trust that they can take the time they need to make it happen.
Related: Why Vulnerability Is a Strong Business Leader’s Most Powerful Weapon
Even the boss makes mistakes
As leaders, we owe it to our teams to admit when we make a mistake, but it takes vulnerability to admit we could be wrong. For example, imagine someone recommended a change that I rejected, but later recognized as the right move. It’s worth explaining why I went in that direction, but ultimately I have to take responsibility for being wrong. respect people it when others, especially those in leadership, show the vulnerability necessary to recognize that they too are only human. Leadership Vulnerability drives the courage to innovate and trust among team members, with benefits reflecting their engagement, satisfaction and retention.
Mistakes happen, but a leader who pretends to be perfect and expects perfection ends up with a team too scared to fix their mistakes. Either they don’t give in when they make them, or they avoid the risk of making them altogether, holding back creativity, innovation and new ideas. Leaders who set an example by admitting their own mistakes and working as a team to overcome them end up with a team that is more willing to trust that they can safely make mistakes too. When leaders can embed vulnerability in organizational culture their actions strengthen the dialogue between a team and its leadership.
Related: Admitting your struggles can build trust with customers. This is why
Educating others can educate the whole team
It may be easier for leaders to feel competitive when someone else demonstrates leadership skills, but being vulnerable enough to recognize and nurture them is far more valuable. We used to have a guy who led our technical team, whose ability to build support teams catapulted our company to success across various categories. Every time I saw him work and interact with his team, I felt like I was taking a business course, but it took vulnerability to recognize what a phenomenal leader he was.
Technical teams are more likely to become isolated and disconnected from the business, but he made sure his people understood how their work fit into the bigger picture of the business. He helped them balance the right amount of time they spend driving with acknowledging and supporting each other. His leadership style spilled over into other teams, influencing the development of those groups for the better. A rising tide lifts all boats, and he did, because we supported his work as a leader.
Related: How Vulnerability Can Help You Get Dream Clients
Regular sessions bring you closer
Depending on the company, it can be difficult to avoid silos, but even departments in silos can still work together towards common goals with the right mechanisms. Create opportunities for people to trust each other with disciplined feedback sessions. Open the session with a thoughtful process, like letting people share their emotions — from feeling overwhelmed at work to a sick child at home distracting them. Then, at the end of the discussion, repeat the opening process to allay any nervousness or uncertainty. Some may feel more in sync or less concerned about their goals.
Opening and closing feedback sessions with the conscious intention to share and process emotions creates more trust in the team. The first time I did one of these sessions with my leadership team, the person who first shared tearfully described a difficult time one of their family members was going through. We had worked side by side every day for years and I had no idea what he was going through! I felt guilty for not being more aware, but it was a good lesson for me and the rest of the team to develop those relationships so we could work better together.
When leaders are brave enough to be vulnerable, they show their teams that they value their trust more than being infallible. Vulnerable leaders appear more authentic, transparent and honest, making others feel more secure and confident about the direction they are leading the business, an advantage strengthened since the pandemic drove us into greater uncertainty. A culture that encourages vulnerability can emerge in this new hybrid world deeper interpersonal connections over greater distances. As it’s more important than ever to keep people connected, it’s time for leaders to embrace vulnerability as an asset.