There aren’t many people who enjoy feeling vulnerable – not in our personal lives, nor in our careers.
For leaders, especially, I’ve found it can be particularly hard to acknowledge a personal weakness or own up to mistakes. Whether it’s because we feel the need to outperform those we lead, or because we’re not confident that we can change, being confronted with our own shortcomings can be horrifying.
But in my eyes, that fear of vulnerability is what holds us back from making positive change – which is why it needs to be addressed. Having worked with many strong leaders who’ve successfully confronted their vulnerability head-on, I want to tell you that it can be done.
Here’s why it matters so much, and why authenticity, not denial, is the way to lead your organization forward.
Why We Hate Being Put On The Spot
When faced with our weaknesses head-on, for example when a colleague suggests a system isn’t working great, we are forced to step outside our comfort zones.
Naturally, as leaders, we would much rather have ‘put the (expired or rotting!) fish on the table’ ourselves, as I like to put it, and avoid the impression of inadequacy we may believe we’re cultivating.
For leaders, especially, I’ve found it can be particularly hard to acknowledge a personal weakness or own up to mistakes.
In other words, we are confronted – and often overwhelmed by – the feeling of being human.
Many of us then face an internal battle that stops us from pushing through with what are essentially the right conversations for our organization.
We recoil from the feeling and the progress being made, or we ‘hide the fish back under the table’.
This prevents us from many things:
- From acknowledging the personal vulnerability that made us feel that way, like our need for control or difficulties accepting feedback.
- From acknowledging the external factors that led to those feelings, like a missed opportunity to innovate.
- From connecting with others to receive their support, improvements, or assistance, and
- From confronting and overcoming the discomfort of vulnerability in the first place.
Acknowledging when you might be shying away from uncomfortable truths that others raise, or ‘leaving the fish on the table’ is critical if you want to grow as a leader.
It’s also essential if you want to move your organization forward with collective intelligence, seizing opportunities for improvement, and reacting quickly in a fast-paced, uncertain business context.
The Value of Vulnerability
Being vulnerable, or facing your weaknesses head-on, is not about being weak. It doesn’t involve sharing intimate details of your personal life with your teammates either, and it’s not about listing every one of your flaws with reckless abandon.
Rather, it’s about being comfortable with who you are and the misjudgments you may have made – may still be making – as part of that.
There is plenty of value in showing vulnerability as a leader.
Being vulnerable, or facing your weaknesses head-on, is not about being weak. It’s about being comfortable with who you are and the misjudgments you may have made – may still be making – as part of that.
Harnessing Collective Intelligence
In opening yourself to others’ ideas, opinions, and suggestions, you are inviting your teammates to contribute their experience, skills, and insights. It’s an openness that not only enhances mutual learning but also fosters individual and team development while creating accountability across your organization.
By being vulnerable, you are raising the barriers that can lead to silos and inertia, and you are letting your organization grow with collective intelligence.
Building Trust and Relationships
Showing vulnerability and being open to others’ suggestions is a critical way to strengthen your team relationships. Where colleagues know they can be honest without resistance, they are more comfortable giving their input.
If you’ve ever wished your teammates would show more initiative, make more suggestions and demonstrate ownership, being vulnerable about your own shortcomings shows an integrity that inspires the missing puzzle piece – trust.
Enhancing Your Performance
Rather like the saying “plenty more fish in the sea,” every fish that we hide back under the table represents an opportunity, as well as an uncomfortable truth.
To develop as leaders – with stronger EQ, pioneering strategies, and the drive to execute – we can’t afford to shy away from growth opportunities. Being open about chances to change and adapt yourself is the first step to improving yourself professionally.
So if something isn’t working in your organization, and you find yourself put on the spot, I would like you to think about fish. By showing the vulnerability you might not even realize you’re avoiding, you’ll be giving your company the space it needs to grow.