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Vulnerability – our greatest Strength?

It seems counter intuitive. How can showing our vulnerable self bring out the best in others? Yet the research is clear – if we want to become a transformational leader, the ability to let others see us as uncertain, unsure, undecided at times is a massive trust builder.

We’re all in this life journey together and being able to connect human to human releases the bonding neurochemical, Oxytocin, which many call the trust neurochemical. Trust is an emotion, something we feel when we are drawn towards another person who is empathetic and non-judgmental, who listens to us, gets what we’re about and gathers us under a shared vision of what success looks like. Someone who values what we think and say, and creates psychological safety so that we feel comfortable experimenting with our thoughts and ideas without fear of failure or retribution.

Leaders who come from a position of knowing it all, power-over and control, lose that precious edge; the space of insight that is created when people lean into not knowing – a ‘share-discovery’ space. In this wonderful space, great open questions are thrown into the mix to help our brains generate new ideas. Imagine the dopamine hits abounding as new insights flare into consciousness in our meetings and planning sessions!

In today’s volatile and complex business climate, we are constantly reminded that robots are on the march and teleportation in advanced stages of development. Disruption is banging on our door, and life as we know it will likely be unrecognisable in 30 years’ time.

There is no way to better prepare for this as a leader than to be vulnerable and admit that our best quality thinking on how to prepare for and respond to disruption will come from sharing the experience and harnessing the power of collective thought. Many brains are better than one, and fortunately no two brains are the same. With 100 billion neurons in each of our brains, imagine the computing power when we creatively think together!

Positional leaders addicted to doing lots of telling (rather than asking and listening) should expect to get left behind. Their day has come and gone, as they lose the cutting edge that’s now needed to encourage teams to embrace the wilderness with courage.

Life is getting interesting – in the wise words of Charles Dickins (A Tale of two Cities):

   “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

As a leader reading this blog, you may be curious about how you can start to show your vulnerable side. I’d like to share some lessons from the front line:

  • Ask questions for which you quite genuinely don’t know the answer
  • Listen carefully to the answers; and follow up with more curiosity
  • Leave judgement at the door – allow people to feel safe enough with you to share their thoughts (no matter how whacky they seem). The best of ideas often come from starting with the worst of ideas!
  • Lean into your emotions and share how you are feeling – admit that you’re seeing lots of grey. Life isn’t black and white, and good decisions are made when we consult widely and blend quality thinking with the data we get from our emotions
  • Let people know that it’s OK to make mistakes; they’re an opportunity to learn. And you’re learning too!
  • Help people to understand that you’re in this together, and that you value their ideas. They belong in your tribe and their ideas matter.

The wonderful Brene Brown says that without vulnerability, there can be no empathy. And with empathy a core component of emotionally intelligent leadership, we need to find a way to show our vulnerability when the moments to do so arise.

It’s our strength; the secret sauce of transformational leadership.

Cheers Alison


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