Improving engagement and emotional commitment means leaders and employees need to change “how” they connect and “what” they do. Since engagement is an emotional connection, leaders and employees need to look at how well they encourage and create emotional connections.
Leadership vulnerability is an emotional connection and an asset to any team. According to author Susan Robertson, in her book REAL Leadership: Waken to Wisdom, vulnerability takes courage and strength. Some believe that being vulnerable means exposing one’s weakness, therefore leaving you open to being attacked. But being vulnerable also means being open and expressing oneself emotionally, authentically, and truthfully. When leaders are vulnerable and human, they engender trust.
Vulnerability allows people to relate and connect. to one another. This is a leadership skill, not a weakness. When people on teams and in organizations trust each other, they create the foundation for high performance.
In the January-February 2017 print edition of the Harvard Business Review, neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak puts forth his team’s decades-long research into how humans build trust. In the article, “The Neuroscience of Trust,” Zak explains that “when an individual asks for help, the oxytocin levels of the person receiving the request increases. (Oxytocin is a brain chemical that is associated with, among other things, social bonding.) In other words, when a person demonstrates vulnerability, others are socially inclined to assist.”
Far from being a sign of leadership weakness, expressing uncertainty or requesting assistance (in moderate doses) builds camaraderie. “Asking for help is the sign of a secure leader– one who engages everyone to reach goals,” writes Zak. This also applies to the individual employee.
Author Harvey Deutschendorf who wrote the article 7 Reasons Being Vulnerable Makes Better Leaders, December 12, 2017 said there are 7 reasons that vulnerability is an attribute in leaders.
- Vulnerable behavior
- Decreases Tension and Stress at Work
- Increases Flow of Ideas, Creativity, and Innovation
- Promotes better Communication Flow
- Problems are Identified Earlier
- Better Teamwork and Cooperation
- It Creates a Fun Workplace and
- Emotional Connections Leads to Less Turnover
So how do you do it?
Here are 4 Tips on becoming a Vulnerable Culture:
Tip 1 Make a Choice to be Courageous by admitting when you are wrong and own your mistakes. By demonstrating these behaviors a leader tells the team it is ok to also admit when they are wrong and to own their mistakes.
Tip 2 Express Yourself by seeking help, apologizing, and acknowledging you don’t have the answers. These are all expressions of vulnerability.
Tip 3 Take Care of Yourself by paying attention to your feelings. “Know what is a ‘good fight’ and be able to do what is right, not what is easy or quick. You may ask yourself; ‘Am I doing this right?’ Anxiety can get the best of us: Pause, breathe and take time to understand your true self so you can be yourself in every moment.” (Manickam, D (2020, May 14).
And Tip 4 Fail Well by using failure as a teaching opportunity. “A culture that embraces failure promotes ongoing feedback, open communication channels, and good listening skills. This way, employees feel able to approach their leaders before a minor mistake leads to a major disaster.” (Macintosh, L (2016,February 17).
Deutschendorf, H (2017, December 12). 7 reasons being vulnerable makes better leaders.
Macintosh, L (2016, February 17). Embrace failure for organizational success. SHRM.
Manickam, D (2020, May 14). Building a vulnerable team culture as a leader. Forbes Business Council.
Robertson, S (2019). Real leadership: Waken to wisdom. The Books Factory.
Zak, P, (2017, January-February). The Neuroscience of Trust. Harvard Business Review.