How to Provide Connection, Stability, & Direction
The world of work has tilted on its axis. Whether you’ve been laid off, you’re working 100% remote, or you suddenly have more work than you can handle, your work life looks different today than it did just a few short weeks ago. Some changes might be good. Some might be terrifying. You might see loads of opportunities. Or you might be overcome with loss.
In times of change and crisis, be a leader. We need people who are willing to face the uncertain terrain ahead, make the best decisions they can, and step forward. That means YOU. Whether you are leading a company, a team, a family, or your own life, now is the time to lead.
That doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers or pretend everything’s okay when it’s not. On the contrary, leadership requires trust. You need to be real. You need to be honest. Sometimes, vulnerable. Vulnerability feels scary, especially when the world is in flux. Yet you cannot truly lead without it.
Maybe you’re sick of “vulnerability.” It became a buzzword about 7-8 years ago partly due to Brené Brown and Seth Godin. I am not a fan of buzzwords. Yet this one holds up. Studies (and probably your own experience) show that vulnerability increases credibility, rapport, and connection. The people you love and trust most—your mom, your child, your oldest friend—do you love them because they’re perfect? No. In fact, their quirks and flaws endear them to you. (Come on, SOME of them do.)
We love it when others are vulnerable with us. It means they care about us and trust us. But we tend to see vulnerability in ourselves as a weakness and a liability. And that kinda makes sense! By definition, vulnerability means you are risking danger. But isn’t that leadership at its core? Leaders go first, even when they can’t see the end of the road. They move forward. They inspire others to join them. And they keep going even though they can’t predict the future.
Whether you’ve acknowledged it or not, you are a leader. Here are some tips for navigating the rocky terrain ahead.
First, take calculated risks. It’s one thing to go skydiving. That’s risky. It’s another thing to jump out of a plane without a parachute. That’s suicide. Only share your fears, weaknesses, or failures with people who deserve to hear them. There’s no need to open yourself up to bullying or exploitation in the name of vulnerability. If you know what you share won’t be treated respectfully, keep it to yourself.
That said, most of us substantially overestimate the loss of status we expect from being vulnerable. Our expectations of mistreatment are often grandly overblown. Especially if you have a track record of credibility or have a high rank, many people will find it encouraging to see your humanity. Your Inner Critic will jump all over you if you consider revealing a flaw. Listen to your Inner Wisdom instead.
Secondly, check your motives. If you’re hoping to GET something by sharing your faults and foibles, you’re missing the point. You probably will reap some benefits, but true vulnerability comes from a desire to give. People may overshare to get notice, sympathy, or leniency. That’s manipulation. Vulnerability isn’t some attention-getting mechanism or marketing ploy. It’s a gift. You share a part of yourself that you might normally hide in order to give something to or create something with another person.
We expect leaders to have experience overcoming challenges and obstacles. As a leader, sharing your story can give others an example to follow or provide hope and inspiration. Letting others see your weaknesses or mistakes gives them the opportunity to connect with you as one human being to another. Telling the truth about your emotions or fears builds trust and understanding. These are gifts!
The focus, as a leader, is not on getting something off your chest so that you can feel better. It’s not about burdening others with your emotional baggage. Or about manipulating someone into liking, pitying, or respecting you. It’s about acknowledging reality—the reality that you aren’t perfect and life is messy. From there, move on to solutions, hope, and taking action.
Uncertain times come with the territory called “life.” We’re getting a supersized dose at the moment! When you learn to navigate those uncertain times, you provide stability and direction for others. And that’s a gift that just keeps on giving.