Vulnerability in Leadership

In difficult times, leaders must reach out to their people, rather than withdraw. As Dan Rockwell, of Leadership Freak says, “Leaders can’t lead anything from the office”.

lonely at the top - man in boardroom

When leaders retreat to their safe-zones during times of crisis, it often has a detrimental impact on morale and the level of trust among team members.  The retreating can be physical; with the leader staying in their office, and no longer spending time in staff communal areas or stopping to chat with employees.  It can also be metaphorical, with the leader adding additional layers of management or communication between them and their employees.

The recent case of Chinese workers keeping their American boss hostage due to the fears of layoffs is an extreme case of lack of trust between employees and senior leadership.

american executive held hostage in china

At Chicago Public Schools, we recently completed another round of layoffs.  Instead of our department director retreating to her office and avoiding staff as the previous director often did, she held an all-staff meeting and spent time answering questions, and listening to concerns.  Especially the rumors.  It made a huge difference.  We knew her options were limited as to what she could do about the budget cuts, but we also trusted her to keep us informed.

We continue to trust the director because she consistently shows courage in uncertain situations.  She also shifts some power to the staff by conveying how much she is relying upon us to stay motivated and to contribute even more than we did before.  She grounds us in her power by emphasizing that she will hold us accountable.

Our leader shows courage and care by being vulnerable and transparent during difficult times.

offer tissues sympathy

Most of us are concerned that vulnerability will be interpreted as weakness.  In a recent webcast with Stephen M.R. Covey, author of Speed of Trust, he mentioned that “people respond to authenticity.  To be open and vulnerable is a great sign of strength.  It takes courage to be open and influenceable by another person.  When we’re not vulnerable, we’re not influenceable.  If you’re not influenceable then, you’re not influencing.  Having a strong foundation and core as a leader allows you to be open because you are grounded.  Real maturity is courage balanced with consideration.   That consideration is another way to express vulnerability.”

As Ken Blanchard says, “people admire your skills but they really love your vulnerability”.

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Categories: Leadership, Professional Development

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