It seems to be a given, that in order for leaders to be effective, they must show strength. Adversity, obstacles, and challenges are the rule rather than the exception in today’s organizational environment. Leaders must possess and show the strength that will help themselves and their people overcome the challenges they will inevitably face. The question is how does a leader display that strength? What does strength look like? How should they act in order for those they lead to know they can be relied upon in challenging times?
The old way of thinking was that force was a way to show strength. In a boxing match or a battle in a war, brute force was traditionally how power, and strength were displayed. Anyone who has ever worked for a dictatorial, command and control manager knows that method is not effective in the long term. Most business situations are founded on positive relationships which can easily be negatively impacted by brute force. While such force can provide some brief “shock and awe”, it is never a long-term strategy which will be effective in organizations. Conversely, vulnerability, a characteristic that is often mistaken for weakness, can be a powerful attribute for strong leaders. Vulnerability in a leadership role is sharing of appropriate openness. We’re not talking about an Oprah moment or revealing deep, dark, personal problems but rather sharing issues that are appropriate to the relationship at hand.
When a leader acknowledges their own shortcomings, such as impatience or poor organizational skills, that vulnerability can build both credibility and trust. It can show that the manager is aware of their strengths and challenges and has an understanding of the need to address those areas. After all, many challenges that managers face such as poor delegation, weak communication skills, disorganization, lack of time management, micromanaging or over-assertiveness, are all behaviors that are observable by employees. They already know their leader has these weaknesses so it’s not new information when they are openly discussed. Instead, when the manager addresses these issues, employees feel a confidence in that manager’s self-awareness. They will trust the manager can have a positive impact in those challenging areas. That trust will carry over in their ability to handle organization issues and weather any challenges the business might face. The right degree of vulnerability is a significant way for leaders to show strength.