More than a decade ago, Brené Brown’s TEDx Talk on vulnerability struck a chord. Brown has continued spreading word of the need for vulnerability through many platforms, including a popular podcast that was highlighted and heralded during the pandemic by The New York Times. Yet, many leaders still struggle with figuring out how to let their guard down and lean into authenticity and transparency.
What makes vulnerability so difficult to master for managers, executives, and owners is that it can seem counterintuitive. For so many generations, the image of a great leader included someone who presented strength and endurance. It was an individual who pushed forward and led fearlessly. If you’re in a leadership position, that picture seems to be at odds with offering colleagues and direct reports insights into your deepest worries and insecurities.
Ironically, though, leaders and their companies needn’t fret about showing vulnerability. After all, employee engagement figures are teetering. One way to build engagement quickly is through stronger employee-leader connections. Vulnerability can be a bridge to establishing those connections because it removes barriers to people working together and, quite honestly, just being real.
Want more reasons to make the practice of vulnerable leadership one of your 2023 work resolutions? Below are some of the top benefits associated with embracing vulnerability as you move higher up the corporate ladder:
1. You’ll boost your resilience.
A recent Psychology Today piece took a deeper look at some of the qualities of successful leaders. The findings showed a link between career success and the ability to learn from mistakes. As noted in the article, a Harvard Business School research study indicated that when leaders were open about their failings, they opened the doors to future wins. In other words, they were able to tap into their wells of resilience because they were honest with themselves and those around them.
Saying, “I made a mistake,” might not be as hard if you’re an entry-level supervisor and your mistake was a small one. However, the higher you move up the chain of command, the tougher it is to be vulnerable about your missteps. Yet, it’s just as important for CEOs to be vulnerable and honest about erring as it is for first-time managers. When you can look at everything you do objectively, you can move on faster and replace bad decisions with better ones.
2. You’ll be more likely to be seen as courageous.
Most people are surprised when they encounter authentic vulnerability from leaders. That’s why sincere vulnerability from anyone in the C-suite is seen as refreshing and brave. Take Brian Chesky’s letter to employees that went viral during the pandemic. As Airbnb’s head, Chesky had to let workers go. But he didn’t just rip off the bandage. He showed his vulnerability in a very open letter. Chesky’s words were described by others in the press as empathetic, straight-shooting, and compassionate.
It takes a willingness to try something different to exhibit vulnerable behaviors that go against the status quo. Consequently, by taking the vulnerability route, you have a better chance of coming off as brave. Just make sure that you’re being truly vulnerable and not just putting on a veneer of false vulnerability. Speak from the heart and say what you mean. You’ll know you’re doing it right if you feel a little challenged throughout the process. Nevertheless, you’ll show the world you have the courage to own your words and actions.
3. You’ll be able to learn more quickly.
Failing is part of business, especially if you’re always testing and experimenting. Instead of feeling shame when you take a wrong turn, strive to learn from whatever happens. Alison Gutterman, president and CEO of Jelmar, the maker of CLR brand and Tarn-X household cleaning products, explains that by seeing failure as part of a natural process of doing business, you take away its sting — and usher in a sense of calm. “What causes this calmness?” writes Gutterman. “It’s being able to stare down self-doubt and refuse to hide. It’s very cathartic to own a failure and tell yourself that the sun will come up in the morning even though you erred.”
A huge privilege of leadership is that you’re presented with opportunities to learn, develop, and grow on a daily basis. Being vulnerable allows you to see stumbles as gifts. Plus, when you’re OK with vulnerability, you don’t have to pretend to be perfect. (And perfection is an illusion that can lead to detrimental outcomes, such as imposter syndrome.) You can be happy being imperfect, as well as be able to share what you discover with co-workers and team members around you.
Vulnerability might not be taught in most MBA programs, but it’s a soft skill that’s valuable in today’s world of work. The sooner you show your vulnerable side, the sooner you can reach new levels of personal and professional achievement.