Professor Lynda Holt
Toughing it out or carrying on regardless is at best overrated, and probably downright harmful to both your own wellbeing and those you lead. You might have spent years, your whole career even, perfecting that veneer of outer calm, while internally racing for answers, but it might just be time for a different approach – one of vulnerability. Now before you stop reading, let’s explore why vulnerability, used appropriately, is a leadership superpower.
First, vulnerability needs a bit of a rebrand in leadership circles, the context around it is often one of weakness or fragility, something or someone that needs protecting, like vulnerable children, vulnerable families, or fragile people. Add to that the judgement sometimes placed on people who spill their emotions all over the place or who can’t cope, and it’s no wonder vulnerability can feel more like a nemesis than a superpower.
Here’s the thing, vulnerability isn’t the latest leadership buzz word, it isn’t about saying I don’t know, crying in public, or worse, telling everyone your inner most secrets. Vulnerability is about connection, deep human to human connectedness, and this is why it is your superpower. It is only your superpower when you learn to manage it and use it for good – just like the comics!
Vulnerability is defined by uncertainty, risk and exposure, so your average day at school really. Pretty much every time you do something new, have a difficult conversation, make a mistake, implement something unpopular, say no – you are vulnerable. You can’t lead well without embracing vulnerability, the alternative is sitting safely in your comfort zone and working relentlessly to keep things the same.
So how do you ‘do’ vulnerability, without over exposure or unmanageable risk?
- Remember the aim is deep human connection – use story or your experiences to help others understand, relate, and access solutions for themselves.
- Share only what you are comfortable with – personal disclosure is your choice and on your terms, it’s perfectly ok to acknowledge you need some help, support or space without explaining the context.
- Keep your judgement in check – judgement might be a self-protection strategy in the short term – it distances you from things you fear. It’s also a great way to shut people down, stop them sharing problems or mistakes and destroy trust and connection.
- Make it safe – for yourself and your team, listen, create agency and encourage discussion and ideas, stay respectful even when you disagree.
- Boundaries make vulnerability possible – make sure you have good boundaries around behaviour, time and respect, you can’t be all things to all people all of the time.
And finally, if you are tempted to pull on the mask and power through – don’t! It’s exhausting, and people will probably see though you anyway. You must have seen it in others. Everything from – you’re not quite sure why but they don’t seem authentic or trustworthy, right through to those who are trying so hard to fit in and look the part they have lost any grasp of what’s going on.
When you are courageous enough to stay real and connected, vulnerability is your leadership superpower.