People Don't Quit Their Jobs, They Quit Their Bosses

Five Important Questions About Leading with Vulnerabilities

What are you hiding? I guess there could be a number of things. So specifically, what about you are you hiding from your team, your peers, or boss that could be particularly uncomfortable to only you?  I’m sure you know what it is.  But if you don’t, they are probably the things in your past you’ve tripped up on, apologized for, been embarrassed by, or have gotten defensive about.  Time and again, I’ve seen leaders do just that; they suppress aspects of their personality or emotional impulses to assure they are seen in a positive light. Some have been in hiding for so long that they don’t even realize when they are switching in and out of character. In their minds, concealing these things communicates that they want to control how they’re viewed.  So apparently, how one presents themselves is a communication tactic.  And as a leader, these kinds of managed perceptions could have a tremendous pendulum-swinging impact, and especially if it’s not what they intended to communicate.

        Question one.  What vulnerability am I actually trying to hide?  

Brene Brown, the author of the book Daring Greatly, talks about this subject exhaustively; but let’s put a leadership spin on it. I am suggesting that the person you present to your team is often this manufactured person you literally want them to see. And often, that person has masked some or all of their mental and emotional imperfections to purposefully hide from the outside world. Why? Only you know.  But let’s explore that. Maybe you’re not confident in who you are. Maybe you feel you lack some talents that are needed for the role. Maybe you have fewer qualifications than that of your peers. Or maybe you are struggling with your own personal demons that have gotten in the way of you being your best self.  Whatever it is, it is now welcomed, stowed, and protected emotional equity in your cognitive-emotional headspace; with absolutely no intention of it being made public.  The problem—sometimes it interferes with you being the most effective leader you can be. Why? Because there’s this constructed barrier that only you can see that seldomly uncovers itself at inopportune times, exposing your true self. You had no intention of disclosing it because they just might not like that shade of you. And because of that, it constantly occupies unproductive mental space.  I realize that uncovering a vulnerability takes courage.  And exposing your apprehensions to your team can get uncomfortable.  Question two. But what would you suspect would happen if you did?

“There is no Courage without Vulnerability”  
      — Brene Brown

Vulnerability is a real or perceived state of emotional exposure that comes with a degree of uncertainty. It involves a person’s willingness to accept the emotional risk that comes from being open and willing to be accepted or respected; in this case, by workers, peers, or bosses. I imagine we all have felt this sentiment at some point.  But tilted too far one way or the other could reveal an imposter within you. I’m not so sure that is what you intended to project. There are some very real concerns you may have repressed.  And I’m sure you don’t want to appear weak or less-than. So covering them up makes total sense. Because protecting this aspect about you, you will finally feel that you fit in, perform better, or at a minimum, be respected, right?  At least that’s what you would think.  Let me assure you—there are millions that feel this way.  Literally millions.

     5 Things Leaders Tend to Hide

     1. Their Limitations
     2. Their Confidence
     3. Their Past
     4. Their Inhibitions
     5. Their Wrongs

So what if you just mustered up the courage to be more forward, more assertive, more humble, or shared your compunctions?  What if you showed them your fragility, your fears, or your introvertedness that is disguised as a Type A personality?  Most will not.  I suspect it’s the overwhelming uncertainty that weighs you down and causes all these charades. The uncertainty of how they will respond or behave if you did is what forces you back behind the curtain. With uncertainty, there is doubt, skepticism, suspicion, and mistrust.  On a spectrum, this uncertainty could range from simply falling short of assurance to an almost complete lack of conviction.  So, I can see why that could make you a bit anxious. There’s a lot to unpack.  But let me ask you a third question—What are you so afraid of?

As much as you want to cover this up, you won’t ever be entirely successful. Because perceptive people have the keen ability to see through the shield.  And when the word gets out, it could be even more damaging.  You see, trust is at stake and it just so happens to be an absolute to leading people.  Let’s be clear about this—you are lying by omission to others and, worst yet, to yourself. Having the courage to expose it, talk about it, and own it can be your liberation. When you do, your authenticity will be disclosed. And your authenticity is your greatest gift you can give the world.  Now, it would be no longer the elephant in the room. And you no longer have to walk or talk with this shadow following you at risk of being called out.  That leads me to my fourth question—What’s the worst that could happen if it did?

How to Shake It

  • Own it as an emotion or fear
  • Change your perspective from weakness to strength
  • Talk about it openly

The liberty that accompanies vulnerability gives you so much latitude. The emotional baggage that gets in the way of your engagements puts relationships and the team’s culture in the crosshairs.  After all, vulnerable leaders create vulnerable organizations, that create vulnerable workers. Can you imagine being the catalyst to a culture of vulnerability that causes the unmasking of real or perceived stigmas that have interfered with achieving their self-actualization?  If you realize it or not, as their leader, you own that experience for them.  And if handled appropriately, you will see performance peak, commitment secured, and communication advance.  Let me tell you—communication changes things. It causes you to be totally present, it welcomes candor, it synchronizes the team, and inspires innovation.  All because you liberated yourself from the perceived scourge of vulnerability and now see it as your and your team’s greatest strength.

Question five.  What is your mask communicating?

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