Being willing to show your weakness might be your biggest leadership strength. If that seems like a paradox, here are three reasons vulnerable leaders create stronger teams:
1. Vulnerability lets your team see the person behind the leader. People want to follow a person first, then a person who happen to be in a leadership role. If no one is following you, then you are not leading, regardless of your role. An effective way to engage your team is to look for the person behind the role. The reverse is also true: An effective way to be a more engaging leader is to let your team see the person behind the leadership role — your strengths, weaknesses, dreams, and fears. Your team needs to latch onto you before they can latch onto your vision. The truth is, most people can see all of these aspects of you already, so when you try to hide them or present a perfect image, your credibility is immediately damaged. Simply be who you are, nothing more or less.
2. Vulnerability creates a strong culture. By being strong enough to be vulnerable, you also build a culture of trust, support, and collaboration on your team. By driving out the impossible expectation of perfection, you also drive out fear, which is the most crippling characteristic for any culture. You can use team rituals to encourage vulnerability while building a strong culture.
One of my favorite examples of rituals comes from a client who wanted to speed up the formation of connections within a new team. I suggested that the team leader incorporate a quick “high/low” around the group at the start of each meeting. Some of my clients call this ritual “peaks and pits.” The team leader starts by stating one high (positive experience) and one low (negative experience) that took place since the last meeting. The highs and lows can be either personal or work related. Each person in the group does the same around the table. No long monologues here; the leader keeps things moving fast. For instance, a leader’s high might be that her daughter just won a piano competition, and a low might be that a key player decided to leave the company. A team member’s high could be that he hit last week’s deadline and was under budget, while the low could be that his father was just diagnosed with cancer.
Since I started suggesting this short but powerful ritual to my clients, many have found it to be a valuable window into the world of their teams. It creates real-time opportunities to support team members who need help (like lending resources to get a project back on track or having dinner sent home during trying times). It also enables the leader to recognize them for positive contributions (such as the time they spent over the weekend serving the needy or going the extra mile to recover a customer who had left). The initial client who used this high/low ritual to help his team gel kept it as a permanent part of his meetings because he found it to be so valuable. Truth be told, so did his team.
3. Vulnerability yields better solutions. Being vulnerable means not thinking you have all the right answers, so vulnerable leaders tend to listen more effectively. Leaders who listen make their team feel valued and also stimulate more ideas from them. A leader’s open mind and listening ears elicit more ideas, and the natural result is a better solution.
Boost your team’s performance today. Start by being strong and vulnerable.