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Leading with Vulnerability

“Never let ’em see you sweat.” 

A good leader is strong and confident. They have convictions, not doubts and fears. They know how to effortlessly demonstrate their aptitude and qualifications for the role. Or at least that’s what most of us were taught.

The vulnerable side of leadership

The idea that good leaders must show vulnerability at work seems counterintuitive, maybe even a little scary. That’s because we sometimes confuse professionalism with a certain level of emotional detachment from everyone around us. Being a good leader is actually about authentically connecting with your employees.

So stop obsessing over being seen as smart, qualified, strong, powerful, innovative, creative, or any other traditional qualities. Allow yourself to be vulnerable because vulnerability is the key component of authenticity. 

We need more vulnerable leadership in business, especially amongst senior sales leaders. Here are my five key principles for using vulnerability to your advantage. 

  1. Admit and own your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, especially senior team members. Be willing to admit to and own your mistakes instead of making excuses, pointing fingers, throwing someone under the bus, or avoiding responsibility all together. 

When you do this, people will trust you more. They’ll want to follow your lead. It’s not easy to take responsibility, apologize, and make amends for our missteps but it’s essential for establishing true credibility with the people around us. 

  1. Share your fears and insecurities

Leaders are often worried about appearing weak. But fear and insecurity are inseparable from being a leader–and a human being. Instead of struggling alone in your fear, or denying and avoiding your problems altogether, share it with others. 

Sharing bolsters your leadership in a few ways. First, it frees you from the fear itself, by naming it. Second, it helps other people realize that you’re human too. Third, being vulnerable gives everyone else permission to feel and express their own fears. This is essential for bringing people and teams together and to overcome adversity. 

You might be worried that sharing your fears with others will sound like you’re making excuses, or worse, dumping our emotional load onto other people. In truth, you’ll find that the opposite is true. Vulnerability is a bold act that can have a big impact on your employees' success. 

  1. Share your journey

Moving up from an individual contributor role into a leadership role requires a lot of growth, discovery, and many many challenges. While your experiences don’t have to be difficult or painful, they often are. 

When we’re transparent about our own processes, and willing to share our struggles and breakthroughs, our employees get to know who we truly are. Give them insight into how you operate and you’ll create an environment that is open, authentic, and conducive to personal and collective growth. 

If you’re a senior seller who used to be an SDR or a junior AE, you’re in a unique position to share your own journey, complete with roadblocks, on the way to a senior role. Talk to new reps about a time when you were underperforming, how you experienced their same fears. Talk about challenges you faced and how you overcame them. Reps still experience those same problems today. 

  1. Ask for and receive help from others

Most of us become leaders because we like to help others. Yet we sometimes have difficulty asking for and receiving help ourselves. It comes back to the idea that leaders can’t appear weak, that asking for help is an admission that maybe we’re not as capable of doing something as we seem. 

But we all need help and support. In some cases, leaders need a lot of it. Be the kind of leader who’s comfortable enough with yourself, and everyone around you, to admit you don’t know everything. Ask for help so you can make something important happen. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. You get to show others that it’s okay to ask for help too.

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously

Sometimes as leaders, we take ourselves far too seriously and we might even become full of ourselves. Don’t forget to bring a sense of humor to your work. We need to laugh at ourselves sometimes, notice when we’re getting too serious, and exercise self awareness when our perspective is becoming unhealthy. 

Vulnerability leads to growth–for everyone

Rigid rules about how to behave in a corporate hierarchy aren’t conducive to a transparent culture of learning and growth. By admitting that you have more to learn as a leader, you communicate to everyone around you that they too have opportunities for growth. 

Open up to your team and share your worries. Give them the chance to express their own concerns as well. By being vulnerable and naming your fears, you and your employees can work together to overcome them, as a team. 

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