What does it mean to be vulnerable as a leader?
At 32 years old, my company promoted me to plant manager even though I had never run a manufacturing operation in my life.
Upon arriving at this business, I realized there was a lot to do. There were quality problems that needed to be fixed, cost challenges that needed to be addressed, and morale issues to be confronted.
I was concerned I might be in over my head. I was the youngest manager in the history of this plant, and I didn’t want to fail.
At this point in my career, I had subscribed to the notion that the leader had to have the stereotypical leadership traits – self-confidence, assertiveness, action-orientation, and the ability to inspire others, take risks, solve problems, and take charge.
I had the mistaken belief that the boss had to have all the answers.I had the mistaken belief that the boss had to have all the answers. Click To Tweet
What made it more intimidating was that the managers and workforce at this facility were all older and more experienced than I was. They knew far more than I did about how to run the plant.
My challenge was to figure out how to lead this operation effectively while not knowing as much as my team.
Many leaders find themselves in the same position. They are surrounded by people who are older and more experienced after a promotion or a job change. It’s easy to become intimidated.
Many leaders make the mistake of trying to appear knowledgeable, to fake it, but it doesn’t work with experienced employees. They can see right through fake leaders.
Instead, I became an effective leader at this plant by taking a step back from the leadership stereotypes. I led by learning, observing, listening, and engaging with my team. I took a more humble approach. I asked questions and listened to ideas. I treated the experienced employees with respect and sought them out for advice.
What I soon discovered is there was power in vulnerability and authenticity.There is power in vulnerability and authenticity. Click To Tweet
Contrary to popular belief, being vulnerable does not mean being weak. It means letting your guard down, being genuine, and avoiding the pretense that you know everything.
Brené Brown, the best-selling author of Dare to Lead, says that vulnerability is simply “engaging in life, being all in, dedicating yourself to something.”
A vulnerable leader does not feel the need to have all the answers. Instead, being vulnerable enables you to see the organization through the eyes of the people you lead. You seek out their ideas and input, and, as a result, employees are more involved and invested.A vulnerable leader does not feel the need to have all the answers. Click To Tweet
When you stop pretending to be a superhero, you become more interesting, relatable, and effective as a leader.
You might not know this, but even Superman had to learn the power of vulnerability.
One of the early complaints about the “Man of Steel” as a superhero character was that he was too perfect. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound meant that he was pretty much unbeatable.
It was always an overwhelming mismatch between Superman and any of his enemies. There was never any tension and no question who would win. As a result, Superman became boring and predictable. So dull that writers had to introduce the concept of Kryptonite to give Superman’s villains a fighting chance.
Introducing Kryptonite allowed Superman to become vulnerable. As a result, his stories became more exciting and relatable to the audience. The outcome was no longer a foregone conclusion.
When we decide to be more vulnerable as leaders, we become more attractive as well. Our employees see us as someone who is open, relatable, and willing to listen to feedback. We become real and approachable.
I discussed the idea of vulnerability and authenticity with business coach Andrew Ryder on this week’s episode of the Deep Leadership podcast. Andrew has excellent insight on this topic. You can check it out here.
If you are interested in learning more about how I turned this plant around, check out my new book, All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.