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How Embracing Vulnerability Can Improve Leadership

Posted on August 3, 2022
Embracing Vulnerability

To go deeper, register to download “Become a Better Leader Through Relationships: A Guidebook for Leaders.”

We only have to look at the terrible things occurring in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, and parts of Africa and of Central and South America to understand a deep truth about our time: there are models of strength and models of leadership that are outdated, and they are harming us. Some leaders can understand leadership only in terms of the imposition of force and contempt for the vulnerable. For them, leadership equals power and the application of power – nothing more. Unchecked power has led to this impoverished view of leadership, resulting in oppression and cruelty.

What might a better, more generative, more holistic view of leadership look like? It would understand leaders as whole people, who don’t need to deny or obscure parts of their humanity. We are all human. At CTI, we see ourselves as working to create a world where leadership is rooted in relationships.

Vulnerability Empowers Relationship

Picture this scenario.

For weeks, you’ve been wrestling with insomnia. You’ve had yet another terrible night’s sleep, and you’re feeling a rough mix of drained and wired. To make things worse, you have a meeting with your boss at 9am.

You roll out of bed, eyes stinging, and make yourself a huge mug of coffee. The insomnia is really starting to get on top of you, each bad night compounding the next, with what feels like no relief in sight.

Coffee down, you’re on Zoom, camera on, talking to your boss. You’re giving them an update on a large company initiative, and it’s complicated. There are numbers, projections, and multiple different message threads. This is the last thing you want to be doing with your foggy, insomniac brain.

Here is what you want to say to your boss: “Sorry. My brain’s moving a bit slow this morning. I didn’t sleep great last night. In fact, I haven’t slept well for weeks. I’m enduring a full-blown bout of insomnia.”

But do you say it? No. Why? Because in our traditional, top-down model of leadership, you don’t want to show vulnerability. You are operating within the cultural conditioning that says your personal life should not impact your work. You believe you need to suppress emotions and power through — so you do.

Now, imagine this alternative scenario.

You’re honest with your boss. You tell them that insomnia has really been affecting you. Your brain feels like it’s wading through syrup. You’re feeling increasingly overwhelmed, and there’s no quick fix.

Your boss listens and replies: “I can totally relate to how you are feeling. In my life, I’ve had stretches of sleeping badly. Once, I totally bombed during a presentation I was giving to the executive team because I was exhausted. That’s no fun at all. Thank you for letting me know. What do you need from me or how can I help you during this meeting?’

And with that question, you realize that you can actually ask for what you need. “I haven’t had a chance to read all the message threads and so I’m not sure where everything stands. Can you help me understand the status of everything and then help me prioritize?”

What happens in this second scenario? A few things:

  • You witness your boss as more human, more honest, and less performative.
  • You immediately feel trust and connection to your boss.
  • You realize that when you are honest and open about the things that you are struggling with, your colleagues can potentially support you.
  • You begin to believe that you aren’t alone! You are part of a team.
  • Trust and connection grow, and with them comradery builds.
  • You and your colleagues’ performance improves because everyone is working together.
  • People begin to feel inspired and have the courage to try new and innovative things.

Faking Perfection Is Draining

Here’s the thing: “pretending” drains energy. And it reminds the person pretending that they aren’t good enough — that’s why they have to pretend.

By contrast, being honest and open ensures that you are operating from your authentic self and puts you into a mindset that is relational — instead of performative or results driven.

When you are accepted and understood at work for the full human being you are, and you (and your colleagues) do not have to pretend to be something different, that creates safety and trust so that everyone can contribute without fear of failure. And when fear is gone, new ideas and innovation can flow. Further, when you (and your colleagues) feel accepted and understood, that builds a level of intrinsic courage, value and worthiness within the work context. And people who feel seen, understood, and valued tend to participate and engage more fully. All of this leads to business results because inspired and engaged people are what propels a business forward.

We are working to promote a model of leadership where wholeness becomes empowering, and no one has to pretend they are perfect to be a leader.

To help you better understand the difference between traditional top-down leadership models and relational leadership, we have put together a guide for managers.

The guide includes our key actionable steps, 7 Tips to Uplevel Your Leadership with Relationship.

Download the guide here.

Thank you for joining the leaders of tomorrow in embodying and sharing a new, more complete, more human model of leadership. Here’s to recognizing the strength that lies in a relationship.

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