Should Business Leaders be Vulnerable?

We know the image of the strong, swashbuckling leader — the one who sets a clear vision and then pushes the troops onward to success. No weakness, no doubt.

But does that approach succeed? More subtly, is the not just the most effective approach, but does it yield the best results?

A report Harvard Business Review report suggests it might not. And the key for a leader to get the most from employees just might be vulnerability: “Brené Brown, an expert on social connection, conducted thousands of interviews to discover what lies at the root of social connection. A thorough analysis of the data revealed what it was: vulnerability. Vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing “professional distance and cool” with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Opportunities for vulnerability present themselves to us at work every day. Examples she gives of vulnerability include calling an employee or colleague whose child is not well, reaching out to someone who has just had a loss in their family, asking someone for help, taking responsibility for something that went wrong at work, or sitting by the bedside of a colleague or employee with a terminal illness.”

Indeed, in a TED Talk that has been viewed nearly 18MM times, Brown outlines why “caring what others think actually matters.”

Indeed, perhaps the worst thing a boss who seeks employee engagement can do is “put on airs.” The piece cites research from Paula Niedenthal, Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the study, “The Perception and Mimicry of Facial Movements Predict Judgments of Smile Authenticity,” Niedenthal and others found that “we resonate too deeply with one another to ignore inauthenticity.”

The bottom line according to HBR: “Here’s what may happen if you embrace an authentic and vulnerable stance: Your staff will see you as a human being; they may feel closer to you; they may be prompted to share advice; and – if you are attached to hierarchy – you may find that your team begins to feel more horizontal. While these types of changes may feel uncomfortable, you may see that… the benefits are worth it.”