Vulnerability isn't always a trait we associate with successful leadership. However, I have found that having honest conversations about how your people are feeling is essential in the face of uncertainty. There's significant evidence that authentic, vulnerable leadership yields more engaged and productive behavior in employees. So, what does it mean to embrace vulnerability? Today we're talking about three things you can do to start creating a culture of vulnerability that builds trust and leads to a better, more efficient business.
"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they are never weakness." - Brene Brown
What does it look like to embrace vulnerability?
1. Acknowledge and share your feelings
Many leaders struggle to identify, let alone share, their emotions. After all, they are busy, and emotions can feel like an inconvenient distraction. Give yourself time to sit with your emotions and unpack them. Then, share how you're feeling with your team. Vulnerability isn't about oversharing or making others uncomfortable—you should share information with the end goal of creating stronger relationships with your colleagues. It's normal for it to feel a little awkward in the beginning. Being vulnerable takes practice, but creating a culture of vulnerability will help you create important dialogues about what is going on in your company.
2. Ask questions that spark a deeper conversation.
Dedicate time to get a sense of how your people are feeling. Set up one-on-one or group conversations to have an open-ended discussion and get a pulse check on what they need going forward. Do not have these conversations over email! Because it's a sensitive subject, it's best to reserve time in person or over video chat to engage with your team. Use the following questions to help your team become more open to sharing what they are going through and being vulnerable. Remember, these conversations should be about understanding how your team is feeling, not just getting feedback.
How are you really feeling?
What would you like our workplace and team to look like right now?
What would be helpful for you right now?
What does "good" look like for you at the moment?
Use these conversations as an opportunity to listen—not react in the moment. Even if a colleague raises a point you want to counter or shares a difficulty you want to help solve, now is not the time. Instead, listen closely and demonstrate that you care and are paying attention.
3. Make changes based on what you're hearing
Listening is the first step to re-engaging your team. However, you can only build trust when people know that you are also taking action. If someone expresses frustration about their workflow, follow up with them on tweaks you're making as a result, and be honest about the things you can't change. Clear communication will help prevent your people from feeling frustrated when you can't deliver.
"A leader, first and foremost, is a human. Only when we have the strength to show our vulnerability can we truly lead." - Simon Sinek
Practice being vulnerable. It can be hard to jump into being vulnerable with your team if you are not vulnerable with yourself and your close family and friends. Spend some time journaling about your emotions and what you are feeling. Be honest with yourself! Remember that emotions have no moral value. You can feel whatever you are feeling, even if you understand what is causing the emotion. Once you have expressed the emotion on paper, share it with a close friend or family member in a way that feels good to you. You might start by just sharing one piece, but you will become more and more open as you practice.
Evaluate how well you follow through on what you say you will do. Look back at the notes from your last few meetings. Have you followed up on your action steps? If so, did you act promptly, or did it take a few days or weeks? Whenever you exit a meeting or conversation with action steps, put a deadline on it and put it in your calendar. Then your team knows when they can expect a change or further communication from you. Setting clear deadlines will help build trust and accountability.
How does your team currently respond when people share their vulnerabilities or concerns? Do you change the subject? Do people talk about the person who was being honest behind their backs? Or do you quickly try to explain away their feelings? If you answered yes to any of these questions, creating a culture of vulnerability may take more time. Start by looking at yourself and sharing what you are feeling and how you respond to other people's feelings. If you're not sure how to respond, try using some of the tools above or say, "That's a valid feeling. Can we set up a time to explore it more?" You should also pay attention to how other people respond and correct their behavior if necessary. Over time, you will start to see more people open up and experience the benefits of vulnerability.