"A leader, first and foremost, is human. Only when we have the strength to show our vulnerability can we truly lead." – Simon Sinek
As a lecturer and facilitator, I believe that it's important to make a connection with my students. And sometimes, daring to be vulnerable is the best way to make that connection.
A number of years ago I was giving training at a company that I was very eager to have on my client list. When they initially asked if I would do leadership training for their senior managers, I was elated.
Over the next few weeks, I spent a lot of time working through my existing training sessions about leadership (that I'd already presented successfully to many companies). I looked for new and interesting information, added the latest research statistics, and made sure that everything was correct and precise.
Normally I'm very relaxed when I lecture or give training. But, during the first three days of this leadership course, I repeatedly became aware of my body being very tense. I ascribed it to the fact that I so badly wanted this client, and that I wanted the training to be perfect.
By the third afternoon, on my way home, I realized that I was struggling to connect with the delegates like never before. They seemed guarded, which rarely happens in my classes. While I sat stuck in traffic, the thought hit me that I was presenting this training in such a precise and clinical way that I had sacrificed the human touch. I wasn't showing any of my "human being-ness" the way I usually do.
On the fourth morning, I started off by asking everybody to sit in a circle. I joined them, and said, "Let me tell you about some of the things I've done as a leader. There was a stage in my life where very few people would have wanted to work for me. I was a perfectionist, and I couldn't bear that people made mistakes. Instead of giving people a vision, I gave them rules. Rather than inspiring them, I judged them. Instead of listening to them, I had to sound like the cleverest person in the company. In short, I suffered from my own ego and I sucked as a leader. Does anybody relate to this?"
After a shocked silence, the delegates started sharing which part of the story resonated with them. They admitted to also going through bad phases, and added their own struggles and challenges to the list. One brave soul said he was struggling with so many things that he didn't know what he was doing there!
Me being open and vulnerable set the tone, and made it safe for the delegates to be open and vulnerable, too. I then took the opportunity to say to them, "Now we know that nobody in here is perfect. Let's take each challenge and see how we can apply the leadership principles we spoke about during the previous days to remedy these challenges."
If you had looked at the situation from the outside, you would have sworn that a miracle took place. The guardedness was gone; there was interaction and there was connection. The tempo and intensity of learning increased dramatically. Through sharing our vulnerabilities and experience, we were able to create a pool of knowledge and a space where everybody was able to learn and share.
Vulnerability can create change, openness and connection, and increase experiential learning. It sounds truthful and feels courageous. Your untainted honesty, and your willingness to drop your ego-protecting armor, create a safe space around you.
During our Twitter chat last Friday, we spoke about vulnerability. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses from participants.
Q1 What does being vulnerable in the workplace mean to you?
@haeheti4 I take this vulnerability as an exposure to meaningful risk in any particular environment.
@JKatzaman Vulnerable in the workplace is not being haughty and all-knowing but instead open to advice and ideas.
Q2 What are we fearing when we feel vulnerable at work?
@amypen64 That people will use our weaknesses against us. That we might not know what we are doing.
@BernieMixon Not being good enough.
Q3 When is it appropriate to disclose something personal at work?
@HirePowerHR From my perspective, only if it is business related or it is one with whom you have a deep and trusting relationship.
@Yolande_MT I use self-disclosure to help people relate to me. It creates a safe space around me for other people to just BE.
Q4 How do you decide who to share information with?
A theme that emerged from the responses to this question was that trust played a big role in deciding who to share information with.
@PG_pmp When co-workers build trust in each other; when they think a person will listen with empathy and give guidance when required.
@Midgie_MT Trust is a big factor when I’m deciding who to share with. Also, what is the purpose/reason for sharing and what do I want to achieve?
Q5 How do you decide what information to share and when to share it?
@LBSnowden Share info with leadership and/or colleagues when the quality of your work is being impacted. Let them know when you need help.
@GThakore Timing and content is important. Share it when your mind and heart are on the same page.
Q6 What does daring to be vulnerable at work look/feel like from a leadership perspective?
@jeremypmurphy It's inspiring to see how great leaders wrestle with challenges and obstacles and overcome them. Fires up the team.
@SayItForwardNow It looks like authenticity!
Q7 How do you hide/protect your vulnerability, and why?
@BrainBlenderTec Most cover with masks; they are overcompensating for a fault instead of owning it and trying to improve.
@harrisonia In addition to being introverted, I almost never disclose too much too soon. I need to feel comfortable with the environment first.
Q8 How can daring to be vulnerable help a leader and help others/their people?
Showing vulnerability as a leader is a hot topic of discussion at the moment and, from these responses, we can see why the two go hand in hand.
@maat333 Showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but of awareness and honesty (trust/maturity) and it can build stronger relationships.
@SaifuRizvi Being vulnerable is human and a leader is human too. Your vulnerability teaches you how to avoid hurting emotion of others.
@GiveWP A leader who isn't perfect gives the people around him/her "permission" not to be perfect either.
Q9 How does maturity play a role in daring to be vulnerable?
@MicheleDD_MT Vulnerability requires admitting mistakes and taking accountability for them. Doing so requires maturity and integrity.
@haeheti4 Daring to be vulnerable is a proof that a leader is capable of handling whatever situation without fear.
Q10 From now on, when and why will you dare to be vulnerable?
@wordsallowed Mirror a client's vulnerability... then show strength and determination.
@E_Toohig As a speaker it is important to show vulnerability when speaking. It helps to build engagement, trust and credibility.
@Yolande_MT I will dare to be more vulnerable in any situation where it can inspire, give hope or build bridges.
Taking your vulnerability and using it to make you resilient and stronger often employs the skill of being able to solve problems creatively. In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know more about when your creative problem solving goes into top gear. Please cast your vote in our Twitter poll here.
In our next #MTtalk on Friday July 21, our topic is "How to Problem Solve Creatively," as suggested by one of our regular participants, Vijay Mahajan @thevijaymahajan. To share your thoughts and ideas, please join us at 1pm EST/5pm GMT/10:30pm IST.
To participate in our chat about solving problems creatively, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on "All Tweets" and you'll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the chat feed.
In the meantime, here are some resources that will help you to learn more about daring to be vulnerable:
Smelly egg sandwiches, fish in the micro. Just what is the right etiquette for food at work? Join us for our #MTtalk chat to find out.
Lifelong learning is not rocket science. It doesn't need to be perfect and polished. There are, however, two decisive factors that we need to consider when it comes to the success of lifelong learning.
"The act of being your own coach begins with positive self-talk! The day you start learning from your mistakes, you will become your own coach!" - @SaifuRizvi
I like how, even in this blog post, you are showing your vulnerability. It really makes the case for what you discussed during the #MTtalk chat.
Thanks for your comment, Rebel. It was unintended but probably subconsciously intentional! 🙂
It is really nice questions and answers. Thank you for all these.
You're welcome, Sothana.