The best leaders aren’t formidable ones. They lead with strong purpose and direction, but their strength isn’t defined by how harsh they are — how much critical feedback they can give or how strict they are with deadlines. Instead, their strength comes from how well they can encourage, support and direct their team.
Where does that strength come from? TED Talk-famous researcher, author and professor Brené Brown has a unique belief: strength comes with vulnerability.
Brown defines vulnerability not as weakness, but rather, “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.”
To Brown, vulnerability means being open, honest, courageous and doing things that might be out of your comfort zone.When applied to the workplace, vulnerability can be a way for leaders to strengthen their relationships with their team and to lead their employees to greatness.
Here are three ways leaders can practice vulnerability to become stronger, more empathetic leaders.
1. Be honest.
Being vulnerable means being honest with yourself and others. It’s communicating your motives, challenges, and successes, and asking others to share theirs — even if it means there might be conflict. When you’re honest in the workplace, you connect with others on a more authentic level and see them for much more than their accomplishments. Brown writes, “When you don’t have honest conversations with us about our strengths and our opportunities for growth, we question our contributions and your commitment.” Being honest and prioritizing these conversations shows a genuine interest in your team’s work and a commitment to their success, both professionally and as real human beings.
2. Take risks.
Taking risks is a crucial part of embracing vulnerability, as being vulnerable can be a risk in itself! While this isn’t a conventionally dangerous risk — like parachuting or tightrope walking — going out of your comfort zone at work can feel just as scary or difficult. Taking risks at work means trying new things instead of sticking with what’s always been done. It’s being creative with everything from morning meetings to big picture projects and goals. Taking risks means you might fail, but that failure can drive you to succeed more than if you never took the risk in the first place. Leading as a risk-taker creates a culture for your team to also dare to be bold and innovative. You never know what success might come from trying something completely new.
3. Embrace imperfection.
Nobody wants to fall, fail or make mistakes. Yet messing up is crucial to growing and being better. We can’t take risks or have those honest, sometimes difficult conversations without embracing that we’re not always perfect. Empathetic leaders create a culture where imperfection is something to learn from and build upon, not something to hide. As a leader, admitting when you make a mistake or asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s practicing vulnerability, which makes you that much of a stronger leader.