To be vulnerable is to be susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
The natural view of a leader’s role is that he is the one who protects his people from attack or harm.
But in a changing world, a leader must also have a sense of vulnerability about him and the culture he is a part of.
This creates openness to the world he and his people live in and engage with. This may be the hardest work in leadership today.
Being vulnerable creates an energy and a focus that can be very healthy.
It gets you to question things you may have taken as a certainty. It looks for creative opportunities as the current reality is being questioned.
It pushes you out of your comfort zone and helps you remember what is really important.
It gives you a chance to “prune” the dead or dying branches that have been allowed to suck life from the team or organisation. It encourages risk, as risk is a normal part of life when there is vulnerability.
It gives you a chance to know yourself better, who you are and what you are made of.
What are the key aspects of vulnerability in leadership?
Vulnerable leadership is about always working with the best information available
The mind is, in essence, a meaning maker. One of its primary functions is to tell us what information or data means.
This happens so naturally that even if there is meaningless background noise around us, we give it meaning by calling it “white noise”.
The vulnerable leader will work at giving people the information they are working with and what it means to them.
If there is not enough data, the leader will add assumptions and make clear what those assumptions are.
The discipline of laying out what things mean to the leader makes him vulnerable to different meaning sets that people bring and opens the door for dialogue.
As much as we hate to admit it, we are all biased and have blind spots. We just can’t see certain things that others can.
Learning to choose vulnerability is to recognise this as a normal part of human life. Others can see the things you can’t and help you fill in the blanks.
Vulnerable leadership gives people a free and informed choice
The reason a leader gives the people following him the information they have is that it gives them a chance to make their own informed choices.
Now, the difference between being vulnerable and merely dealing with threatening situations is that you choose to walk into vulnerability, versus having it imposed on you by external forces without a choice.
To make your own choice is one of the most powerful capacities you have.
Vulnerable leadership looks for internal commitment to and ownership of the choices made
People are more likely to own a choice and have more of an internal commitment to it when:
they are given the best information and understand what it means to others;
they are given a choice among variables and see that the choice made is the best one available; and
they know it is their own free choice.
They will gain confidence and are more likely to make more good decisions.
A vulnerable leader does his research and walks through the data he has and what it means to him.
He includes others in this process and invites questions. He respects their choices and gives them the freedom to make a choice based on the best information available.
There is a greater chance of everyone owning the decision with an internal follow-up of it.
As a result of all of this, people will know the agenda because of the process they have walked through and this creates a greater culture of vulnerability for all involved.
There is less chance of people blaming others as they all shared the best information they had.
Obviously, I am not saying all decisions can be made this way.
Leaders must make decisions and people will need to follow.
But when they are really important decisions that require people owning them and following up on them, then some vulnerability is required.
Although the process may take a bit longer, the end results will often prove the energy involved was worth it.