One of the realities of being promoted leadership position and one that isn't talked about is that, unless you have been a manager for a while, you likely don't know how to do your job confidently and make sense. This article isn't meant to make you question your leadership or that you're not talented as a leader; in the staffing industry, it's just the nature of constantly confronting the unknown and not knowing how to navigate the leadership waters. The most important lesson I learned so far is that nobody else knows what they're doing, either, and they are trying to learn as they go.
The most successful leaders are those who, faced with their inadequacy, learn and move forward by sharing it's human that we don't know everything. Leadership isn't just "add water," and BOOM, you have unique talents; like you, we are just people trying our best, finding the best ways to help those we are managing. We are also growing into the leaders that we inspire to be. As leaders, we need to understand and stop pretending that we are supposed to have all the answers. Instead, leaders should be humbled, aware that we aren't perfect, and those you lead want you to be yourselves and step into the enormous uncertainty of leadership. If you are lucky and get a leadership role based on your work in your career, be identified as someone who cares, who shows up, who has grown and become successful in your career journey, etc. Let's face it, not all want the responsibilities of a manager, and not all should be leaders, but take leadership roles because it's the "next step" for growth. I'm afraid I have to disagree with assuming; however, that is another article. Most grow as a leader when we learn to stop pretending to have all the answers and willing to be vulnerable and ourselves and start developing the true sense of growth: being human.
Why do we need to be vulnerable leaders? Look, we all come from the world of competitiveness. As leaders who inspire others, we need to be leaning into that vulnerability—admitting to our shortcomings, choices we may have made and could have changed actions, and how we strive every day as leaders to grow into what we are capable of being. We own our vulnerability; that gives the team space to embrace their vulnerability. As leaders, we face real and minor problems that feel like practical problems. Leadership is expected to take on more significant challenges and produce results based on the function of our roles within our companies. Yet 90% of leaders don't talk openly about their struggles with their team; according to a Leadership study, they surveyed 21,008 employees to assess how well their leaders were performing, and 28% actively hid their problems from their employees.
Some team members might leave, or worse, they might think badly of you. But as frightening as it seems, most leaders who step up and own their imperfections find the opposite: it makes them a more effective leaders for acknowledging we are all humans. I came up with three learnings that I have embraced as a vulnerability leader:
- As leaders, project the image that you, the employee, value. I Invite my team always to bring their whole selves to work. To truly engage with the hearts and minds of my team, I provide the space to be themselves at work. And I expect
them to come as themselves allows me to be myself.
- Being upfront about my imperfections and the things you don't know but learning and sharing how to navigate through what can be cloudy allows team members to be their imperfect selves. Your commitment to the team's imperfections and uncertainty invites your group to courageously make the same commitment in the face of their fears.
- My team makes me wiser. I had some leaders in my career communicate their opinions in the form of facts or say "strong opinions loosely held," which is difficult for teams to help the leader see the bigger picture. By publicly admitting you do not or cannot see the whole picture, you open the door for others to contribute to your understanding. And a complete understanding of the problem enables you and your team to make better decisions together. After all, you have a team with many perspectives, which adds value and experiences.
- You get to be your whole self. Finally, and in the end, most importantly, by aligning your whole self with the vulnerable human underneath, you bring your thoughts, words, and actions into harmony, which no less than zen quotes that say…. "the key to passion is"….
Let's face it, leading a team is highly challenging. We all struggle, despite what you read on LinkedIn. Most leaders in our industry have bad days, weeks, and months and it's OK. We all do. Our journey as leaders that we have been given can make us feel substandard, imperfect, like an imposter. And most tend to internalize such feelings, and doing so can make the journey of that leader painful and develop a lack of passion which in return funnels down to the team they manage.
So, it's the certainty that we will struggle and fail as a leader, and for me, it's OK. You are not a bad leader; it makes you human. Acknowledging that fact enables you to gracefully do what all great leaders do: Press forward and be at work your whole self.