My understanding of leadership has been forged most profoundly upon the realization that leadership—in simple terms—is about making others better with your presence and finding a way to ensure that that impact becomes greater and lasting in your absence. Executives often struggle with leadership and relationships on a one-on-one basis, so how much more complexity is introduced when she/he interfaces with entire teams?
Leadership development never reaches finality. As we mature and grow, so too do our challenges and their magnitude. It would not at all be silly to consider that life almost engineers an ability in which we learn to adapt, to survive, and to rise to the challenge of confronting problems as the significance of each seems to multiply. At the risk of oversimplifying, “personal development” settles into its home of turmoil—facing and solving problems. On a subconscious level, it is possible we actually seek these problems because as we solve each, we expand and grow. We improve and become better. Within the context of an organization, this solution-seeking behavior doesn’t stop. Hardly! It continues on a collective, and ideally, on a mutual and cooperative level.
In life and in business, individual thinkers develop biases, preferences, and aspirations while experiencing all the world has to throw at us. These interpretations may chisel us into extraordinary leaders or leave flanks exposed and unprotected. In order to optimize performance amongst a cohesive team, we must share clear objectives and a common mission. Operating in sync keeps the machine lubricated and running smoothly. “Imperfect” individuals may perfectly complement a team member, creating a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. How incredible…
A functional team—effective—with authentic affection—cohesive—is rarely assembled by chance. In fact, organizations more often than not build walls that hinder collaboration and team spirit than tear them down.
Sure, we know what we want: an effective, integrated team, right? Who doesn’t? And while there are so many recipes to be found, leaders still struggle to find the right elixir to produce the intended effect.
As backwards as it feels, recent research suggests that vulnerability is a key element in building cohesive and integrated teams. How can that be? Vulnerability—or an individual’s aptitude to openly admit mistakes, ask for help, apologize, express ideas freely, show gratitude and recognition, and identify improvement areas or shortcomings—can actually serve as the lynchpin that keeps a team together or enables it to thrive. When we drop the assumed (and often fictitious) layer of immediate reaction and emotion, we no longer need to feign strength or live under the constant veil of dread. When we’re ready to expose ourselves, we become ready to listen and ready to run.
Under your leadership, you will find ways to create a work environment that leverages vulnerability to manifest circumstances where vulnerability itself becomes a celebrated asset or attribute that pays tribute to your organizational health and effectiveness. On a personal level, people put up walls that serve a specific purpose: defense. Defend ourselves from what? From whom? The energy expended on these interpersonal walls encourages misalignment and unresolved conflict which detract from our attention, focus, and goals. The battle is out there, not in here…
My experience working with management teams reveals a strong correlation between individuals who exhibit defensive behaviors and the style or personality of the leadership at the “top.” When the authenticity of a leader is lacking or nonexistent, up go the walls.
People aren’t stupid! Leaders who consider themselves superior or infallible are mistaken. People can sniff out selfish personal goals or a self-serving agenda from far away. Leaders must be vulnerable too. While most equate vulnerability with cowardice, now that we know better, should we continue to feel this way? Is vulnerability the act of a coward or an act of brilliant courage? As I myself reflect on the question, memories flood my mind of experiences with leaders who genuinely displayed skills or capabilities that were naturally still “under construction.” When they exposed these vulnerabilities and asked their teams for help in rounding themselves out, they carved their reputations into our psyche as ones of true greatness.
It begins with you, the leader. Are you ready to be vulnerable in order to be authentic? To expose yourself so that you become real for your team?