Great leaders make tough decisions and do whatever it takes to get results – right? According to author and BlackBird, Inc owner Jeff Haden, that is probably backwards. Instead, he has seen the power of vulnerability as a key trait for respected leaders. Haden sites this passage from a book, Fiercely Loyal by Don Baron:
Despite what you’ve been taught, vulnerability is the very opposite of weakness; in truth, it’s all about courage. Make no mistake, for someone to be truly courageous, vulnerability must come first.
Real courage requires vulnerability. Real courage requires us to step into something where we cannot predict the outcome; something that, in some way seems terrifying, not because we could die, but because we feel we might receive the most painful of punishments – that of being rejected, disowned, and ultimately isolated.
Haden tells in his blog about a time when he became a new supervisor and decided he knew a great way to add productivity to his employees by switching a shift around. He barreled ahead with the switch despite lack of employee support, and mixed up the family schedules of many loyal workers. Later, he talks about his stupidity (his term) at messing with their lives, and decided to apologize and go back to the way it was before his change.
While Haden was sure he’d lost the respect of his employees, something different happened. One employee said, “I didn’t really know you, but the fact that you were willing to admit you were wrong told me everything I needed to know.”
Basing a decision on more than analysis, logic and reasoning is essential for leaders. Data driven decisions are good, but great leadership is often subjective and even messy. You, as a leader, know things your followers don’t know, but they also know things that you don’t know.
Listening to others requires you to be vulnerable as a leader… because you might find out you don’t have all the right answers. But that’s OK. As long as you get it right in the end, vulnerability makes you human.