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Leadership Requires Vulnerability

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Thu, Aug 16, 2012

Many business and leadership skills are counter intuitive.  Take the idea of less is more.  Most of us believe if we tackle more we get more done, when precisely the opposite is true. 

“A company with too many priorities has no priorities.”      

- Verne Harnish, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

Perhaps the most difficult leadership skill to master is being vulnerable.  In a leadership position it is often difficult to understand and appreciate the value of being vulnerable to your leadership team and your staff.  Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Five Dysfunctions of a team resized 600notes that trust begins with being vulnerable.  Being able to allow others to see your thin skin, where you are not perfect allows trust to build. 

In my coaching practice I’ve discovered that the most successful leaders are willing and often proactive in admitting their mistakes and weaknesses to their leadership team.  This takes defusing your ego and acceptance.  It’s being self-confident in who are and recognizing there are no prefect human beings.  Leadership makes mistakes at the highest level and with the largest companies.  Those who can admit them win the admiration and respect of their supporting teams, and most importantly their trust.  The proviso here is that despite our blunders and deficiencies we need to succeed 51% of the time.  

As noted in Accountability Starts With Trust while in the hospital the people I depend the most built trust with me by revealing personal information about themselves.  Can you imagine how difficult it would be for treatment to work if I as the patient failed to be vulnerable?  If I fought my treatment and refused to provide information about how I’m feeling it would be very challenging to administer and improve my condition.

Leadership vulnerability may feel like stepping off a cliff.  It is perilous. Often you are unsure of the outcome.  However with practice and feedback you will discover it is not only feels good for you but is enormously beneficial to your leadership team.  As you allow yourself to admit mistakes and weaknesses your team opens up and is more forthcoming with their mistakes and weaknesses. 

The focus of Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton is to get you as an individual focused on your strengths.  Strength-Based Leadership is about making sure your best players are channeling their efforts to their strengths and improving decision making and execution by utilizing people in areas they enjoy and are good at.  In order for that to occur your team must be able to express itself, reveal vulnerabilities and strengths in your executive leadership meetings.  When the team knows what each other’s strengths are its easy to identify who the best person(s) is to solve an issue. 

Strength Based Leadership is a powerful book which reveals that leadership is not being good at one or several things, it’s about putting a team together that supports and indeed exceeds you in your vulnerable areas.  It breaks down leadership into four themes, executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking.  The key to growing a successful business they discovered is building a team that has strength in all these areas.  Your vulnerability in any one theme is never exposed because you have someone who has your back.    

Yet even if you find the right people, identify that your team has the balance of themes to grow your business, it will be ineffective unless they trust each other and are willing to work together and be vulnerable in order to move the team (your business) forward.

That’s why I believe the more powerful book is Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  My experience in the hospital elevated my understanding of how integrated and reliant we are on others.  Communication, relationships, listening skills, empathy these are critical elements everyone on your leadership team needs to possess to contribute.  

Trust begins with being vulnerable.  Having the self-confidence, assuredness and courage to admit when we make a mistake or reveal a weakness is the hallmark of great leadership.  How vulnerable do you make yourself as a leader? Have you built trust with your leadership team?  What indicates that you have?  Are your meetings open and does conflict flow freely when challenging issues arise?  Change starts at the top.  If your team isn’t being vulnerable perhaps it’s time to examine how you may be contributing to this.

Topics: Acute Myeloid Luekemia, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, leadership, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Strength Based Leadership

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The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

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