Imagine yourself running down the street naked. Not a pretty thought? Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest you do something as extreme as that. There are more advantageous, and appropriate, means of exposing your vulnerability to others. This may include asking for help, admitting a mistake, or accepting failure.
When I was younger, I felt it was important to demonstrate my competence in order to build others’ confidence in my ability to do a good job. This shortsighted behavior resulted in all sorts of problems including important files being thrown away and oversights on reports. Pretending to know everything was not only dishonest, it prevented me from learning and developing truly supportive relationships with my supervisors. I probably also looked foolish because nobody, not even the most intelligent people in the world, really know everything. That is an unrealistic expectation and an invitation for isolation and eventual self-destruction.
Now that I am in a position of leadership, I openly admit gaps in knowledge and mistakes that I have made to my coworkers, board of directors, and colleagues. I also strive to create a safe environment for others to do the same. I see my work team as a collaborative group that shares its intellectual resources both to expand each person’s working knowledge and to complement each other’s work. Keeping an open flow of information, resources, and support helps everyone both individually and collectively.
I am sometimes tempted to share personal information about myself in professional settings in order to build stronger relationships. Exposing vulnerability in this way can sometimes backfire. It can be difficult to determine the most appropriate place to draw the line, and this varies from individual to individual. Trust your instincts and freely share stories and information about yourself to the extent that you feel comfortable and safe. Measure what you have to gain against what you have to loose and make an active choice about what to share with whom.
Our ability to expose our vulnerability is derived from our character, sincerity, sense of humor, confidence, and courage. When our core is strong, we remain unwavered when the gentle breezes of exposure roll by. In fact, these experiences nourish our souls and help us grow.
As leaders, we are expected to stand out – not because we’re perfect, but because we are willing to take risks. Be willing to try new things even when there is a possibility of messing it up. Take a leap of faith in yourself, and have a little fun. If you are consistently genuine, your team will be sure to catch you before you fall.