The Art of Leadership Vulnerability


Patrick Lencioni stresses the point that today’s leaders need to be aware of the risks of being invulnerable. He refers to this clearly in The Five Temptations of a CEO and in Getting Naked. So what is it to be invulnerable? This can be described as the distancing of the leader from the team being led by focusing on STATUS, wanting to be POPULAR, the need for POWER AND CONTROL, lack of TRUST of the team members creating a fear that a subordinate will take their job. This distancing creates an attitude of looking down on the team instead of being part of the team.
Let’s take a look at what vulnerability would look like. For those who consider themselves strong leaders this may sound a little scary or even weak, but the vulnerable leader focuses on results over status. Instead of trying to be popular the leader is focused on accountability. There is a focus on clarity over certainty or the need to be right. Instead of trying to keep things in perfect harmony there is recognition of the need for healthy conflict. There is an atmosphere of trust that allows the team members to be heard with an open mind without fearing what the conversation might be. This all begs the question of how.
How does a leader learn to be vulnerable?
What behaviors would be observed in the vulnerable leader?
What kind of atmosphere would this create in the workplace?
If you are the leader, a good first step might be to get to know who you are and who your team players are through one-to-one meetings and assessments to get to know the person’s outside interests and even some of their struggles. This step alone can begin to create an atmosphere of trust and recognition of the differences among the players.
The leader must let go of the fear of being wrong. An effective leader is able to admit when a mistake or poor decision has been made. The leader makes no assumptions but rather solicits input from the team with interest and curiosity. There are no bad ideas, only ones that when considered carefully are not the best at the moment. The vulnerable leader can accept criticism from peers and the team members and process it for the truth even when it is uncomfortable.
The vulnerable leaders can let go of the need for power and control. This leader is able to get on the level of the team members and really hear them. He listens attentively and considered their input carefully. The leader realizes that allowing for all to be heard may create some healthy conflict which can flush out the down sides of the path allowing for the clarity to come forth. When things are clear and accepted by everyone on the team there is trust and buy-in. This leader also knows the team members well enough to know their hidden talents, those talents they do not use in the everyday work. He is appropriately concerned with their lives external to the organization.
Letting go of the need for control allows for getting the ego out of the way. The leader recognizes that not all of the best ideas will come from him. He is willing to share the power choosing results and accountability over the ego trip of being popular. Indeed, this leader is probably more popular with the team because they feel trusted and heard and know that their voice counts.
Where does this leader start? With the next deep breath. Remember, true leadership is not for the faint of heart. Love it!

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