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  • Writer's pictureNeal McIntyre

Why Being Vulnerable Can Suddenly Improve Your Workplace Culture



What characteristics come to mind when you think about a true leader? We tend to think that a leader is confident, knowledgeable, courageous, fearless, bold, visionary, focused, and willing to take calculated risks. Many leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, and others who we hold in high regard have all displayed these qualities.


What about you? Do you exhibit these qualities within your organization? Would others provide a similar description of you if asked? We all strive to attain such characteristics but oftentimes we fail to truly reach the goal yet we continue to create this image for others to see that we hope adequately reflects these qualities. 


Leadership Portrayed


We all love movies and documentaries that portray strong leaders - individuals who rise above insurmountable adversities and ultimately save the day before everything is lost. Individuals who are able to fight the forces of evil and corruption to the benefit of the common man and those in need. While this may date me some, images of Kevin Costner in the 1990s movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Mel Gibson’s portrayal of William Wallace in the 1990s movie Braveheart quickly come to mind as a display of true leadership and a reflection of what we think leadership means.


In our organizations, we perceive it to be our job to fight the “evil” forces that are seeking to hinder our progress as a business or even to destroy us. Our companies face numerous challenges each and every day. Some of these challenges are rather common while others, such as the initiation of the Covid-19 pandemic, are novel. Yet the underlying factor that ties these situations together is that others look towards their leaders for direction, safety, security, and progress in the heat of these trying moments. 


What do you do in these situations when others are looking to you for answers and direction?

What did you do when Covid-19 first caused mass disruption across the nation and world? As leaders, we often feel as if it is our duty to know the answers and even outcomes to challenges that we face, even challenges that we’ve never experienced before. We feel that in these uncharted times, we should still know the correct direction to take.


Why do we believe that we should have the answer to every situation that our business may come across? I believe we tend to think that if we don’t know “the” answer, it’ll be a negative reflection on us as a leader. Granted, we all suffer from a certain degree of imposter syndrome but leaders often feel as though it is a negative reflection of them and their abilities if they do not know the answer to challenging situations. 


Our Leadership Reflection


Do you ever stop to think about the image that you’re giving off to others by pretending to know the answers or directions in every challenge? While we hope that our behaviors in these situations cause others to compare us to Churchill, King, Lincoln, etc., oftentimes we fall drastically short of that. Most of the time, our pretending to know the answer or the direction or our fake display of courage, vision, and fearlessness often comes across as cold and calloused to those around us, especially those who we are trying to lead. Why? Because, as leaders, we’re afraid to show our vulnerability!


What would happen if you demonstrated your vulnerabilities to others in your organization?

What would happen if you informed them that you don’t know the answer to the current challenge or that you’re fearful of certain changes in the industry, economy, etc., as it relates to your business? Would that change the perception that others have of you? Certainly, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing! 


When a leader pretends to know the way and comes across as cold and calloused to others, they are essentially sacrificing their potential to form meaningful relationships with those in their organization. Employees can feel when their employers do not care to learn about them as people and only choose to view them as hamsters on the wheel of production. Then we wonder why morale is low in our organization or why our employees are not happy and motivated or even why they aren’t loyal and many leave the company at the first chance that they get. 



Vulnerable Leadership And Workplace Culture


I frequently state that organizational culture is initiated by company leaders - in fact, company culture is always a reflection of leadership! So what would happen if, as a leader, you share your vulnerabilities with others in the organization? It would demonstrate to others that you are human, that you have feelings, that you are confident enough in yourself to recognize and admit your insecurities and uncertainties. Now I’m not suggesting that you should go around your company and have conversations with every person where you list all of your weaknesses, that’s not what I’m proposing. Instead, I’m simply proposing that we take opportunities to simply let others around us know that “no, I don’t know the answer to that problem”, or “no, I’m not sure what direction we should proceed in as a company, right now”.  I’m arguing that as leaders, we need to come to a place where we’re accepting of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities.


Think about this, who would you be more motivated to strive hardest for, someone who is cold, calloused, and doesn’t even know your name? Or someone who is approachable, who has been real with things, one who is not ashamed to admit that they don’t know the answer, and one who has expressed commonalities with insecurities that you may struggle with as well? I guarantee that every single person would always choose the leader who they can relate to, the one who displays warmth in their relationships to others and not the cold, distant person who always claims to know the solution. 


Being vulnerable is a drastic shift in terms of leadership qualities but we all respond better to real humans instead of those who act as robots. If a leader was to be confident enough to be honest and share their vulnerabilities with their organization in trying times, you’d see a dramatic improvement in company culture. It would create an environment where all people were accepted and encouraged for their strengths as well as their weaknesses. There would be a tremendous increase in transparency, honesty, and real connection with others on a humanistic level. Everything about this would lead to nothing but positive results for the organization and every person involved. 


Conclusion


True leadership involves revealing our real selves to others. Everything that we do is about relationships. In a business setting, we often think about our relationships with customers, clients, and/or patients but our relationships with our employees and co-workers are equally important. Relationships can not be built on false perceptions - people are smart enough to see through this. 


So what kind of leader are you? Are you one who can connect with others by showing your insecurities and vulnerabilities in trying times? Or are you one who pretends to know all the answers and whose false perception keeps others at a distance?


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