Several years ago, I was involved with a program to increase the amount of foster care children transitioning from a high school into college. As part of the initiative, I was invited to speak at a community forum. During the forum, I let my guard down and shared why the cause was important to me on a personal level. As a teenager, I struggled and empathized with the challenges of these young men and women. The local paper ran a picture of me the next day with the caption, “Thom Fox, former drug addict and Community Outreach Director of Blah Blah.” Well, Blah Blah did not like that one bit; I was chided by my leadership team and our board of directors. It was the first experience I had with vulnerability, and boy it stung.
For years after I kept my mouth shut; I bought into the fallacy that vulnerability was ‘No Bueno’; that is until I became an entrepreneur. What I learned from that journey was being vulnerable wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was the catalyst that grew my business. The more I shared, the more people gravitated toward me. That got me thinking. Why was I chastised for vulnerability inside a big company, yet as an entrepreneur people wanted that, and more? The answer, some folks look at it wrong.
Now, my former leadership team isn’t alone. There are still outliers of Corporate America that frown upon vulnerability. Some see it as a weakness, but I offer they couldn’t be farther from the truth. True vulnerability in leadership is about other people, not yourself. It’s exposing your unvarnished-self with the motive of connecting with others. It allows you to be authentic and provides permission to others to do the same. This act not only solidifies teams but also allows you to build solid relationships.
Let’s be honest, not all leaders have the answers. Those who profess otherwise are not only failing themselves but their teams. Vulnerability is courageous; it’s the opportunity to embrace the ideas of others. When you own your flaws, you allow your team to follow suit. You give everyone permission to sweep the eggshells out of the workplace and engage in a meaningful and collaborative environment. Your honesty and integrity will serve a beacon for others to embrace their vulnerabilities and use them as learning tools for professional development.
I’m not advocating doling out your deepest darkest secrets, but rather to be human with your people. The more you do that, the more they will respect you, your goals, and leadership.