ATTENTION weak leaders: Avoid being vulnerable at all costs.
Being a vulnerable leader and human being in general is not for the weak. The things strong, vulnerable leaders do are frightening and can lead to certain disasters best avoided by the weak.
Imagine the fallout when, at a minimum, being a strong, vulnerable leader means that you:
- admit fallibility to others, and perhaps more difficult, to yourself,
- take responsibility for your actions and results,
- give credit and praise freely to others,
- have frank discussions about your concerns with people about performance and other critical topics.
Now consider just some of the consequences:
1. Your direct reports will view you as someone they can relate to.
Because you will be open and honest with them about things you don’t even like to admit to yourself.
Strong, vulnerable leaders show up to work as their full selves. While they put on their game face when appropriate, strong, vulnerable leaders accept that they themselves are, in fact, human. In fact if your CEO is a strong, vulnerable leader, she has a long list of things she’s working to improve about her leadership right now. And she’s excited to work on them rather than ashamed.
As a weak leader, the last thing you want is for others–particularly your direct reports and peers–to get to know who you really are. You have a lot to be ashamed about. And can you imagine what others would think if they actually knew you?
If you were a strong, vulnerable leader, others would most likely identify with you as a normal person and not the Big Boss that you are. This undermines your authority. Being vulnerable means that people will be relaxed and themselves around you while you actively put up a front.
Others will trust you. They will tell you things.
As a weak leader, you want to hear answers, not problems!
2. Your boss will know when you’ve screwed up.
Because you will tell her.
Strong, vulnerable leaders have open discussions when things go wrong and they take responsibility. They share how they will go about fixing the problem, or worse, they share that they don’t yet know how to fix it but they honestly share the status or plan.
Taking responsibility leads others to view you as someone who can actually handle a Big Boss role. With that comes the potential that you will be promoted to the next level.
And once you’re in that next role, there will be even more things to be open, honest, and vulnerable about.
Less than ideal!
As a weak leader, it makes far more sense for you to hide things or blame others. A few options to consider:
- “Accounting didn’t send me the TPS report on time.”
- “Sales doesn’t communicate with us . . . How could we possibly know we promised that to the customer?”
- “I have too many things on my plate right now.”
- “If I had the right headcount, this wouldn’t have fallen through the cracks.”
- “We were not aligned on this issue.”
3. Others will have a chance to shine because you don’t have all the answers and don’t do everything yourself.
Because you will give them opportunities to both struggle and succeed. And you will shine a light on others’ success.
Strong, vulnerable leaders say, “I don’t know,” fairly often because they don’t know everything. They then engage the team and others to figure things out and get things done.
That’s a lot of talking!
As a weak leader, your job is to know everything. If you don’t know, bluff or defer.
And let’s be honest, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
4. Others will know where they stand with you.
Because you will tell them. Respectfully.
Strong, vulnerable leaders may be uncomfortable sharing their concerns about performance or interpersonal issues, but they do it anyway. They seek to understand and work toward joint improvement.
But it should be all about you, right?
As a weak leader, there are plenty of ways to avoid this. For starters:
- Hold things in and turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
- Complain about people behind their back.
- Find passive aggressive ways to get back at others.
- Don’t share performance concerns throughout the year, then shock direct reports with a low performance rating. It’s their problem if they can’t handle it.
- Alternatively, give high ratings to everyone to avoid the tough discussions that go along with low performance ratings.
If you happen to suffer being a strong, vulnerable leader and want to change that, consider the following suggestions I’ve picked up from coaching both strong and weak leaders:
- Stop regularly reflecting on yourself, your performance, and your impact (good and bad) on others.
- Accept that you’re not good enough and that you simply must hide your shortcomings.
- Spend no time considering why it’s hard for you to be vulnerable.
- Tell yourself you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time until you’re found out.
- Find ways to protect yourself and your team, unless you need to throw the team under the bus, of course.
- Stop your regular reading and other self improvement activities.
- Never take a professional or interpersonal risk.
With very little effort, strong leaders too can become less vulnerable.
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