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Twenty years ago, advocating for vulnerability in leadership would have seemed absurd. Even a decade ago, you would have got some strange looks for that suggestion. Vulnerability? A leadership strength? Come on!

But here we are in 2021 and we’re seeing a growing understanding of the important role vulnerability plays in establishing trust, and evidence that the best leaders foster trust in their teams.

The two are inextricably linked.

Need some more convincing? Here are just a few reasons why vulnerable leaders are the best at building trust:

They foster stronger connections

The majority of people will have, at some point in their life, been led by someone who wasn’t quite ‘real’. Someone who projected an image of authority and capability, but never admitted to any mistakes of weaknesses. Sound familiar? I’m willing to bet that you didn’t exactly feel a connection to that person.

When leaders only reveal the things they think will impress people, they’ll only have a shallow connection. In comparison, a leader who’s prepared to show their vulnerability inspires openness and trust. And when your people feel that they can trust you as their leader, they will feel more secure, be more productive, think outside the box, be more willing to take health risks, etc, etc. The list goes on.

They positively impact team engagement

As leaders, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking we have to put on a powerful, faultless front. It’s tough to show weakness or admit that we don’t have all the answers all the time. But buying into this impossible notion can actually make you appear unapproachable, cold, unfriendly even. And it can send your team a message that they should act in the same way.

By showing people that you can be emotionally vulnerable, you give others the permission to be vulnerable too. It gives your people permission to try new things and make mistakes and admit to faults without fear of reproach. The result is a team that is more emotionally connected and engaged with you and each other.

They encourage creativity and innovation

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Brené Brown hit the nail on the head there. Creativity requires risk. It takes courage to break the mould. Creativity lives in the same space as ‘uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure’ - Brown’s definition for vulnerability. The two go hand-in-hand.

Leaders who open the door for vulnerability open it to creativity too. When you can admit to not having all the answers, you can make space for others to put forward their own ideas, without being held back by any fear of getting it wrong.

They ask for help

Asking for help is an essential part of leadership. After all, aren’t the best leaders those who surround themselves with people who are better than they are? Who know more than they know?

Running a successful business without help is a mammoth task, so in order for your organisation to thrive, you need to have all hands on deck. Every individual is part of your organisation for the valuable contribution they make, so ask them to contribute in any way they can. A true leader allows every individual to be part of the solution.

They create a healthy working environment

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - a leader who is open and vulnerable encourages others to do the same. It filters through the organisation until it becomes part of its culture. For all the reasons above, a vulnerable leader will create a vibrant and healthy working environment.

When a team feels connected, is able to create freely, and can make a valuable contribution, the whole mood is elevated and everyone can take pride in their workplace. This is the kind of environment in which people thrive, one that’s full of energy and positivity.

Vulnerability isn’t an act of weakness, it’s a bold act of leadership. When leaders have the courage to be truthful - to be real - they have the power to build stronger relationships, loyalty and trust, and they enable others to do the same. And that trust is the key to creating a motivated, connected, creative and highly engaged team.

As Stephen R. Covey put it, “Trust is the highest form of human motivation.”

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