We all have our struggles: doubts that prevent us from making the right decision, memories we’d rather not relive, regrets that haunt us at night. Leaders are no exceptions, and they shouldn’t act as such.
“People want to work for someone that is real, someone that they believe in,” said Heather Monahan, founder of #BossinHeels, a career mentoring group. “By pretending to be perfect, you alienate yourself from everyone else.”
Unmasking vulnerabilities in the workplace can make for a stronger, more secure team. When your workers view you as a human who still makes mistakes and battles fear, they likely feel more comfortable with their own faults.
“Expressing vulnerability as a leader opens the door for others to do so as well; they can share what they need and where they need help,” said Sue Hawkes, author of “Chasing Perfection: Shatter the Illusion” (Advantage, 2017). “The most impactful opportunities for building trust and strengthening the team at the table is often when things aren’t working … Successfully communicating those vulnerable opportunities and supporting each other as teammates is what strengthens every leader present.”
Don’t be afraid of exposing your flaws and weaknesses; in fact, embrace them for the entire team to see. Here’s what you, as a leader, can do to unmask your vulnerabilities in the workplace.
1. Confront self-doubts.
Just because you’re a person of high power in your company doesn’t mean you never doubt yourself. Sure, you might appear confident, and that might have been what landed you the position in the first place. But no one is free of worry or reservation at all times.
“The first step for a leader in confronting self-doubt is to acknowledge that they are experiencing it,” said Hawkes.
Monahan shared similar views, noting that, by ignoring your self-doubts, you give them more control over you.
“When you address or share your self-doubts, you are taking them on and they lose their power over you,” she said. “So often, what we doubt about ourselves is usually something that can actually be our superpower … Sometimes, just focusing on what is so special about you will begin to erode your self-doubts immediately.”
2. Confide in your team.
While you want to set a good example for your workers, you can’t be perfect. In fact, concealing your imperfections will only give your team unrealistic expectations.
Sharing your struggles is a great way to encourage mistakes and healthy risk-taking. It also allows your peers and employees to see a more personal side of you that will strengthen your bond with them.
“Often, leaders view others with a sense of comparison and think their peers have the qualities and confidence they lack in that moment,” said Hawkes. “When leaders are humble and express vulnerabilities in this way, it actually comes across as courage and daring. When you share those experiences, it builds rapport and confidence for everyone.”
Additionally, confiding in others will show that you trust them and value their feedback and support, which creates lasting bonds, said Monahan.
3. Admit to your faults.
If you mess up, don’t try to cover it up. This will only tell your team that it isn’t acceptable to make a mistake, which will create a stressful environment and add tension to your relationship with them.
“When leaders admit their own mistakes, it communicates authenticity and humility,” said Hawkes. “Their employees can see that they are comfortable taking accountability themselves, not just expecting accountability from others. This increases respect from employees and leads to a more connected and dedicated team because the leader is modeling the behavior, and that is visceral, not conceptual.”
4. Accept help.
You might be used to others coming to you for help, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the same.
“It is important to remember that even the best leaders need help and, in fact, knowing when they need help is part of what makes them so effective,” said Hawkes.
Accept support with gratitude and humility. You’re no better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you. There’s no shame in giving or receiving help – it’s how you grow both individually and collaboratively.
“When a leader does not accept help graciously, they are denying the other person the good feelings they would otherwise enjoy by helping, which is actually selfish,” said Hawkes. “When a leader accepts help, it gives the other person the gift of contributing and being part of the solution as a teammate, not a follower.”