The Human Side of Leadership: How Vulnerability Makes You a Better Leader

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When you think of leadership, a confident person may come to your mind. Organizations look for leaders capable of leading teams to success, overcoming challenges and exceeding objectives. However, the traditional paradigm of the always strong leader is changing. Now, we need for a new type of leadership that knows how to express emotions and show vulnerability.

In this article, we are going to explore the concept of vulnerable leadership and how this quality helps improve organizational performance by creating more cohesive and engaged teams.

What is a vulnerable leader?

Vulnerability, in the field of leadership, refers to a leaders’ ability to recognize their own emotions, limitations and mistakes, and to share them openly with their team.

Far from being a sign of weakness, vulnerability is an indicator of strength and self-awareness. It is being brave to appear authentic and human to others, promoting a work space where honesty and transparency are fundamental values.

Brené Brown, renowned American professor, author, and researcher, has spent more than two decades studying how vulnerability, empathy, and shame, far from being a problem, improve communication, interpersonal relationships, and help create a better work environment.

In her TED talk, which is one of the most viewed of all time, Brown defines vulnerability in leadership as:

“The ability to express and expose, in words and behavior, who we really are and what we really feel and think. It is often confused with weakness or fragility, but in reality it is the basis of authentic leadership. Vulnerability can help us build trust, promote creativity and connect with our colleagues in a deeper way.”

So, vulnerability is a strength that makes us authentic, honest and trustworthy: three basic ingredients for any good leader.

How vulnerability improves your ability to lead others

Nobody is perfect. Therefore, adopting this approach allows team members to identify with their managers and generate more powerful and meaningful connections.

For that same reason, leaders who accept vulnerability as part of their leadership obtain several benefits:

  • Cultivate stronger relationships: By being vulnerable, we create an environment of mutual trust, where team members feel more comfortable sharing their own ideas, insecurities and challenges.
  • Increases motivation: Vulnerability fosters a sense of belonging , motivating the team to fully commit to its tasks and objectives.
  • Promotes teamwork: Barriers are broken down and communication is more open and effective, which enhances collaboration and innovation within the team.
  • Facilitates decision making process: By recognizing and sharing our own limitations, we make new perspectives available to our collaborators. Ideas and approaches that, perhaps, we would never have considered and that could be a success.
  • Improves the work environment: Openness and honesty promote a healthy work environment, where emotional well-being is as important as performance.

How to develop vulnerability as a leader?

Before continuing, a clarification: vulnerability does not mean exposing yourself emotionally to the point of making your colleagues uncomfortable.

As Brown herself explains: “Vulnerability without limits is not vulnerability”.

Sharing your personal life, admitting mistakes and continually complaining about what you have done wrong in an abusive way is not the right way to be transparent.

However, throughout her extensive work, Brown has outlined multiple strategies and perspectives that together can be considered a guide to cultivating authentic and healthy vulnerable leadership. Below, we share some of them:

Establish connection

As a leader, your first task is to create genuine bonds with your team. This means taking time to get to know them, understand their motivations, and value their contributions.

Connection is built in the small moments: a shared coffee, an honest question about their day, or an acknowledgment of their work. Leading a team is not just about goals and numbers, it is also about seeing and understanding your team as unique individuals.

Develop empathy

Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. As a leader, practicing empathy means actively listening to and validating the feelings of others, just as you want them to validate yours.

And no, it is not about solving all their problems, but about understanding and supporting them. By showing empathy, you show that you value your collaborators as people, which strengthens trust and the leader-team relationship.

Treat yourself with kindness

Be kind to yourself, especially when you have to face mistakes or failures.

Acknowledging that you are not perfect and treating yourself with the same kindness you would have towards a friend fosters a culture of openness and psychological safety in the workspace. After all, how you treat yourself is a reflection of how you treat others.

Accept mistakes

Admitting your mistakes in front of your team can be scary, but it is a very powerful act: it shows that you are human.

Instead of getting frustrated about what wasn’t, take time to pay attention to what you’ve learned and plan next steps. Ask yourself what went wrong, why it didn’t work, and how you could improve.

Practice gratitude

Gratitude not only improves your well-being, but it also has a positive impact on your team. Recognizing and thanking your collaborators for their efforts and achievements strengthens relationships and promotes a positive work environment. Gratitude is a reminder that every contribution, big or small, is valuable.

Show openness to giving and receiving feedback 

Feedback is an essential tool for personal and professional growth. As a leader, foster a safe space where both you and your team can give and receive constructive feedback. Being open and receptive to feedback demonstrates your commitment to continuous improvement and encourages your team to do the same.

Ask for help when you need it

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Recognizing that you don’t have all the answers and that you value your team’s experience and knowledge can boost collaboration and innovation. Ask for help and you will see strengthened trust and mutual respect in your team.

 

For authentic leadership, it is essential to listen to your people. And with Team Insights you can do it easily, quickly and with results. If you want to know everything our tool can do for you, request a demo!

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