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The Champion Forum Podcast

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Three Ways To Embrace Vulnerability As A Leader

Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! How do you feel when someone says you should be more vulnerable? For some, a lack of vulnerability results from being taught leadership in a competitive, intense environment. For others, it is a product of their personality and preference to keep their mistakes, feelings, and thoughts to themselves. Regardless of why leaders avoid vulnerability, refusing to respond openly to questions or failures will destroy team trust, morale, productivity, and health. Today, we will talk about three ways you can cultivate a culture of vulnerability and empathy on your team.


The Truth about Vulnerability

Many leaders believe that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Vulnerability is a strength. It takes a lot of boldness to admit that you don’t have all the answers and to ask for support. 


Q: When you hear the word vulnerability, how does it make you feel? What do you think a vulnerable leader is like? Have you ever worked for a vulnerable leader? Describe your experience.


What happens when leaders fail to embrace vulnerability?

A lack of vulnerability erodes trust. Your team will hesitate or even refuse to speak up and share their concerns or ideas. They will try to mimic your confidence even when they have legitimate concerns. When leaders fail to recognize the human side of work, it creates a culture of emotional detachment, which can be toxic to mental health and contribute to workplace stress and burnout. 


Q: Why do you think leaders fail to embrace vulnerability? Describe a time when your leader’s approach to vulnerability positively or negatively affected your work environment.


Three Steps To Cultivate A Culture of Vulnerability and Empathy

  1. Admit Mistakes

Leaders often get to their position because they don’t make a lot of mistakes. They were a strong individual contributor! But as a leader, admitting your mistakes helps your team attack their own mistakes with resiliance. We’re telling our team that making mistakes and taking risks is okay.


  1. Ask for Help

Sometimes, the best thing for the team is asking for help! It is impossible to know everything about a topic or new initiative. Asking for help shows that you recognize the team's expertise and value their position on the team. People will start rallying toward you, not pushing away from you.


  1. Show Emotion

Strong leaders don’t command and control; they connect. Genuine emotion is a real find. Many leaders fall back on canned responses and scripted appreciation. Sometimes real emotion can feel scary or messy, but when people are moved by emotion! There is a time and a place to be more vulnerable and open with your emotions.


Q: Which of these three areas is the hardest for you? What makes you hesitate to utilize this strategy? How could your team improve if you embraced vulnerability in that area?


Application Activities:

  1. Evaluate your attitudes toward vulnerability by answering the following questions. When did you last apologize for a mistake you made at work? How do you feel when you see a leader express that they don’t know the answer to a question or problem? Have you ever seen a leader healthily express emotion? What did it look like? How did it make you feel? Understanding your history and beliefs on vulnerability will help you take the next step toward becoming a more vulnerable leader.

  2. The next time you make a mistake, commit to apologizing. When you apologize, admit the mistake, recognize its impact, and ask for support. If you are uncomfortable with apologizing, write down what you want to say beforehand. You can also use this strategy at home or with your friends to help continue building a culture of empathy and trust in all your relationships. It may be easier to start with people you know well and apply these principles to your work as you become more comfortable with them.

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