There’s a great emphasis these days on applying the soft skills to be an effective leader, such as intuitive communications, empathy and positive affirmation.

This can be a tall order for anyone from the “Rottweiler school of management”. However, there are even suggestions that the best leaders should take this further; that there is mileage in showing your own vulnerabilities and shortcomings, to help inspire and unite the teams you lead.

A vulnerable boss sounds like a contradiction. The need to be strong can make the idea of admitting anything perceived as “negative” something to avoid at all costs.

But we are not talking about a leader who looks morose and is constantly bringing their own personal baggage into every conversation. It’s the ability to put ego to one side and say “I messed up” or “I’m finding this really tough”.

The view is, that leaders exposing their own “soft underbelly” achieve important advantages over those who strive for perfection.

Role model for a vulnerable leader

For an example, look no further than Starbucks. Back in 2007, the company was in sharp decline. CEO and chairman Howard Schultz was entirely transparent, admitting to staff that the future was uncertain. Did his emotional admission destabilise the company? Clearly, history suggests otherwise. And the connection he made with his staff could well have been a major driver of recovery for this strong global brand.

Leaders with the human touch

One of the benefits of admitting your own setbacks and shortcomings is that your team can feel more connected to you. You’re still the one who is making the ultimate decisions, but you “get them”. You have a full appreciation of what it means to be human. This can make your team far more open to you, and more willing to address their own problems.

It could be argued that teams unite more solidly around a manager who “needs them” as well as leads them.

Learning and growing opportunities

There’s also an opportunity to create learning and mentoring scenarios from your own challenges, that hit home harder with your audience.

Then, of course, there’s the cathartic nature of being authentic. Your own stress levels may find release, by “keeping it real” and admitting that sometimes things are “tough at the top”. It opens you up to learning new things too.

The pursuit of perfection and a relentless drive to being efficient and effective can also stifle creativity and adaptability. Some of the greatest innovation comes from when you try something, and it goes wrong. If you never admit to mistakes and deadends, how would you and your team know what works and what doesn’t?

A lot comes down to be willing to show your vulnerabilities while juggling other strong traits of leadership. Your team knows that though you’re facing uncertainties, concerns and challenges, you’re ready to work your way through it, with their support, to meet a shared goal.

Contact us to discuss balancing leadership traits in more detail.

170627-D-SW162-1173 by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff licensed under Creative commons 4