Thought Leadership

The Single-Component Needed To Make Leadership Great

Since the advent of the pandemic, leadership has constantly evolved to better suit their employees’ needs. However, there is still a prevailing gap between employees and their respective leaders that came to the surface with the Great Resignation.

To find this missing link, a catalyst survey was conducted of 12,000 global employees that revealed that employees were more willing to go the extra mile at work when their manager is open and shows vulnerability. Yet, according to the survey, only 24% said their manager was usually or always vulnerable. These numbers are incredibly disappointing, especially since they are directly linked to better work culture.

So what is the barrier preventing leaders from making the leap?
Brene Brown, Famed American Research Professor on Vulnerability, says that the armor of perfectionism holds leaders back from being vulnerable. She adds, “Perfectionism is the ultimate fear. People who are walking around as perfectionists. They are ultimately afraid that the world is going to see them for who they really are, and they won’t measure up.”

This fear of failing, and the shame attached to it while not meeting others’ expectations, can lead you to an area where there is unhealthy competition, and you associate your self-worth based on your accomplishments.

Yet some of the world’s leading founders and CEOs have struggled with perfectionism. Steve Jobs, Apple’s late CEO, was once an adamant perfectionist. His obsession with detail meant that the company took more than three years to develop the original Macintosh. However, Jobs soon realized that this wasn’t sustainable and managed to curb his perfectionism tendencies as time progressed and hire more people he trusted. This switch helped Apple become more capable of tackling the mass market and less of a niche product company.

Like Steve Jobs, as leaders, it is essential to note that once you overcome this barrier of perfectionism that restricts you from showing your authentic self and being vulnerable in front of your employees, you are sure to notice a huge difference in the way things progress.

Why is a vulnerability in leadership so crucial?

Let’s answer a few questions: how many of you know the battles your employees are currently facing? The imposter syndrome your marketing team is battling or the performance anxiety your rising star is facing? Why aren’t they telling you about these personal experiences? Do your employees know that you also face these moments of weakness?

If not, here’s an easy guide to showing vulnerability as a leader and establishing a deeper connection with your employees

Be Open

This is the first step to adopting vulnerability in leadership. This willingness to be open and honest, even if it makes you vulnerable, is essential because it builds trust — people can easily sense inauthenticity and think you’re faking it. If you never show emotion, that conviction only becomes more potent. But when you reveal a more personal side, employees can sense authenticity, feel a connection and are more likely to believe you.

Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz takes the lead on this. Fishkin has posted his own performance review with a detailed list of the challenges he has subjected himself to and how he faced them. He also shares all of his failures and successes with the world so others can learn from his experiences. In addition, SEOmoz has also made its funding decks open to the public, which is very uncommon.

Create A Psychological Safe Space

Initially defined by Amy Edmundson, a Harvard Business School Professor, psychological safety is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team culture is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” She defines it as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.”

This is also one of the secret tools Google uses to enhance the productivity of their high-performing teams. They work on improving their culture every step so that every team member feels comfortable sharing their views. However, merely taking steps to improve the culture is not enough. Google routinely surveys team members to check how effective their measures are by including questions such as, “How confident are you that you won’t receive retaliation if you admit an error?”

Express Gratitude

When your employees embrace your vulnerability and bring you great ideas or challenges they need help solving, say a big thank you. If you appear embarrassed that employees offer suggestions to improve a specific problem, you have again hit a dead-end. You need to understand that you won’t have answers to every situation, and when you don’t, you can always lean on your brilliant team to provide those answers and thank them for it.

A great example of this is the CEO of Frito-Lay; in the 1980s, the company was going through a difficult time, so CEO Roger Enrico announced a new initiative for all employees to ‘act like an owner.’ Richard Montañez, a company janitor, heard of this opportunity and approached the CEO with his billion-dollar idea which greatly impressed Enrico. At the time, Cheetos did not cater to the Latino community. To solve this, Montañez suggested covering the Cheeto with a homemade spice mix that instantly became a hit and eventually helped revive the company’s profits.

In conclusion, as Brené Brown, Researcher, says, “If you don’t understand vulnerability, you cannot manage and lead people. If you’re not showing up vulnerably as a leader, you can’t expect anyone to follow you—period.”


About the Author:
Professionally trained as an Architect, Prof. D’Mello is the pioneer of the Community Management industry in the Middle East. Popularly known as the ‘Father of Community Management in the Middle East’, he set up the region’s biggest community management company for Emaar Properties, managing some 170 towers and 14,000 homes and the tallest tower in the world, Burj Khalifa. He also set up Nakheel Community Management which is responsible for managing iconic master communities like the Palm Island, Jumeirah Islands, and the Gardens, among many others. He has also worked on several other iconic master plans in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.