There is little doubt as to the importance of excellent leadership as a competitive advantage of any organization and a key factor in advanced and sustainable people management.
Much has been written about leadership (indeed, there are almost 500 million entries relating to “leadership” on Google) and in recent years a significant consensus has been reached as to the role of leaders in the 21st century: they should generate confidence, bring out the best in their teams and mobilize employees into action on the basis of a shared vision. What has not been reflected upon so frequently, however, is how authenticity, proximity and personal vulnerability generate more long-term confidence. In relation to such issues, this article will share some of my ideas born of recent personal experiences.
Just a few weeks ago I was listening to a presentation on corporate strategy at a business forum, when the speaker (who was an important top-level manager) suddenly became emotional to the point of almost crying. What he was explaining about the impact of his role as a leader and his involvement in the future of his company deeply affected him and he could barely contain his emotion for a few seconds.
Something that could potentially have been interpreted as a sign of weakness or lack of self-confidence by the audience had quite the opposite effect. This moment marked a “before and after” scenario in his presentation (which had already shown strong rational arguments) and generated much commitment and passion among the participants who were watching this deeply genuine, close and “vulnerable” person.
I am quite convinced that a purely technical and well-structured presentation in which a series of previously learned watchwords (as we frequently hear at numerous forums) would have been a more comfortable and less “emotionally risky” format and would have had a much lesser impact on the audience.
This story is not an isolated case. During my career I have had the opportunity of experiencing a number of memorable moments like this, sharing difficult situations with professionals who conveyed authenticity and, despite not initially having answers for everything, were finally able to overcome their uncertainty and successfully deal with such challenges.
What do we mean by “vulnerable leadership”?
Mike Robbins is one of the specialists who has done most research on the subject and I believe that he defines it very well. Rather than being obsessed with being intelligent, powerful, strong, qualified, innovative or other attributes typical of a good leader, we will be ourselves and communicate both our “lights and shadows” to other people. This will make us more credible by being more authentic for others and more emotionally centered in order to better manage day-to-day pressure.
Robbins suggests four key elements of this type of leadership in his very interesting article
“The Value of Vulnerable Leadership” (http://ow.ly/L4hgD).
-Share some of your fears and uncertainties with others
-Do not take yourself too seriously
-Share your own personal evolution, your learning and your challenges
-Ask for and receive help from others as a sign of valuable humility and openness to others
Other articles such as “The Best Leaders Are Humble,” Harvard Business Review (http://ow.ly/LkhoY) also reflects upon the fact that the humility and vulnerability of a leader increases innovation, teamwork and team commitment.
In short: it has increasingly been shown that, in the 21st, century successful and sustainable leadership will generate confidence, inspiration and influence in other people through humility, vulnerability, authenticity and proximity.
This more down-to-earth and humanistic approach is in contrast with previous visions based on more technical, rationalistic or messianic hyper-leadership profiles. We no longer look for supermen or superwomen, but rather leaders who speak from the heart and inspire us as they are more naturally in touch with their deepest convictions.
This is indeed an aspect to be considered in such complex times affecting numerous aspects of today’s society which, needless to say, does not abound in sustainable and transformative leaders.