The Power of Being a Vulnerable Leader

Management is not a walk in the path especially if you are managing a team of youths who feel they are better than you, and for sure some could be better but due to several work related factors they have not grown as much. I am on that path in my work life and am taking great learnings from it. I have been managing a small team for the last 4 years and recently after the pandemic hit, I transitioned to new roles then a whole new functional line was added to my own, the restructuring was done to improve the business model approach. Its working by the way, the realization that these two teams ought to be a single unit was the best business decision made by us!  So the transition happened  and before long we realized that we have different work cultures that needed to be realigned. As a leader most of the time I found myself following up on late deadlines, review direct reports work and changing almost every aspect and resetting project expectations again. I could clearly see some people within my team are struggling to keep up the hard work culture while their direct reports were doing well and seemed to fit in to the  new alignments. As we continued to get new projects it became clear that there was need to change tact since at times I doubted my managerial skills. I went into a soul searching venture, did some swot analysis on my self and I am a work in progress but these has been (it’s still) an eventful journey. In my quest to understand myself better  I came across the elements of a vulnerable leader. Allow me to share some briefs on this today!

Let me first define this, vulnerability is the state of being exposed to the possibility of being harmed, either physically or emotionally. I realized that people connect more with those who have weaknesses. I also realized that every great person has a weaknesses, these makes them more relatable. Anyway we’re all vulnerable we’re coz we are human, we’re imperfect and we allow people to see us and feel needed by us. I decided to dedicated more time to connect to the my reports to understand them better but my target was on the weaknesses they posses. I must admit that the hardest thing as a lead I could do was to show weakness to my team. Vulnerability was the first thing I looked for in the people I managed and the last thing I was willing to show them. In some of them all I saw was was courage and daring. They knew, it wont be perfect and were willing to give a try but were afraid of letting me know they can take a leap of faith since then I was not relatable to them. That when I realized that me showing how vulnerable I then  felt its a leadership weakness. I had to change tact and after some leadership coffee chats with peers, I started showing vulnerability to these dotted line report. The turning point came when while working on a core project with an individual, I allowed him to make a decision and was clear that since his manager was unavailable, if we make a mess then I take the fall for it. Soon he opened up about a lot other  things. While I was clear with him that I was afraid this would have a backlash, I had just opened up to him that he can trust me with his issues.  I am building on this one case to hopeful transition a team to greater heights.

I am now understanding that as a leader sometimes being vulnerable and showing it to your reports is not a weakness, it just makes you a more relatable leaders, more approachable to your team and when sharing your expectations towards a project outcome, the team can really understand what this means to you and the overall objectives of the project. In the few weeks I have shown vulnerability, this has helped a lot.  The key leanings I am gathering in this journey is first, vulnerability makes you real to people, most of my  feedback is authentic, real and genuine. If my direct report gets sloppy, I have been straight with them and has made it easier for me and them work on project priorities. Secondly, it helps to create a strengthen a team. Not all of us will have answers but we can rely on other members to the team for support or ask for help. Doing this creates bonds within teams because it forces people to work together. Thirdly, its fosters truth, people trust those they connect with and will share concerns, worries, challenges and lessons learned from failed project experiences, personally ii have seen this  instill confidence dotted line reports who are willing to pick up more roles and would be willing to let me know if their manager isn’t supporting them enough.

I would go on about this but one thing i must alert you is that you got to be ready with the outcome. Showing vulnerability can be more beneficial in the long run, but in the short run there would be squabbles and people loosing confidence. Don’t resist the temptation to be vulnerable, let yourself go with it but be sure you deal with the outcome in the short run. Hope this helps you become a modern leader, gone are the days of  the so called stiff upper lip manager who have no emotion and can’t relate to those they work with. Its takes time but slowly we become better leaders

©JMS 2022

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