Essential to leadership: Leaders lacking vulnerability risk exhuming an aura of intimidation

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

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I’m a huge fan of archetypes, the monomyth and other ways our culture is based on deep-rooted psychology of the human condition. One particular interesting instance is the recurring archetype of an emotionless, untouchable leader in fiction. These depictions of leaders perpetuate a myth that to be successful in the workforce, one must strip themselves of emotion and become a ruthless stoic that is virtually untouchable.

This theme of a fearless, transcendent leader – while attractive to those in or seeking power – makes most uncomfortable on some level. Again and again, research on emotional intelligence shows that the best leaders are those with whom workers can relate and connect with on a somewhat emotional level.

Still, for leaders it is hard not to put on a rugged exterior as so many depictions of leadership skew the very image of leadership. I was inspired recently by a Fast Company article that argues for a showing of vulnerability from leaders. It is an interesting thought. On the surface, the very idea of being vulnerable seems antithetical to leadership, but when I think of some of the best leaders I’ve worked with, I can count several instances where they insisted on a level of vulnerability.

This can mean an idea that isn’t ironclad, a decision open for critique, or simply being accessible to coworkers who may need a discussion where – gasp – emotions are involved.

Not being known as someone who wears emotions on their sleeve, this vulnerability is a way for me to connect with co-workers. It can take many forms, but admitting your own faults and acknowledging the unknown are some ways to demonstrate this. As is self-deprecating humor and sharing of your own missteps.

Leaders lacking vulnerability risk exhuming an aura of intimidation, which shuts down ideation and collaboration. If people are intimidated by leaders, they’re hesitant to go to them with critical thinking or new ideas that are instrumental in creativity, problem solving and everyday life.

In that spirit, even this is open for discussion. What do you think? Should leaders be bastions of strength, or are leaders meant to show a little emotion or vulnerability? Do you have an ideal leader that exudes qualities of either?

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