Being vulnerable makes you a weak leader. Here’s What To Do Instead

There has been a craze in recent years, encouraging all of us to be vulnerable. We are told to use this “gift of vulnerability” as a way to build trust and connection with others as a way to connect others with us.

But if you want to be an effective entrepreneur, manager, or leader, or build and scale a meaningful business, you need to be very careful about vulnerability. It can expose you to certain risks and to exploitation.

If you are vulnerable, you can be too familiar with people, and there is a danger that this will be used against you.

This risk is present whether you are running your own business or trying to climb a career ladder. In either situation, your legitimacy and status as a leader can be inadvertently undermined and eroded by those willing to exploit your vulnerabilities. They wouldn’t have known these if you hadn’t revealed them so openly.

You could be criticized by others on social media or even expose yourself to legal challenges for exposing your vulnerabilities too freely. And you only have to do it once. Or 10 years ago, and it could rear its ugly head again and again.

Making big decisions

Trying to interact with people by being vulnerable can actually make it much harder to make strong or hard decisions. They see you as weak. You’re making it hard on yourself to be strong right now.

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People have to believe in you as a leader. They should be able to respect and even admire you. They need to recognize your resilience and believe that you can overcome challenges and obstacles.

Too much vulnerability shared too openly can make you seem weak and damaged. People are losing faith in your ability to lead through challenging and disruptive times like the ones we are going through right now.

I accept that vulnerability can be a great way to build trust and connection with customers. To build a social media following and bond with staff and colleagues. But I’ve learned through bitter experience that sharing vulnerabilities too openly with clients and my staff has diminished my teams’ trust in me and, therefore, in themselves. And some have used it to manipulate and even blackmail.

Strong leadership

When my staff went crazy for their livelihood during the first lockdown, we had to make hard decisions to relentlessly cut overhead costs, let some staff go and fight to stay in business. My 100+ strong team wanted to see me as strong and decisive at the time.

If their view of me had been dulled by my vulnerabilities and they had seen me as fearful and insecure, they would have felt this too. They already felt it, and I felt it. so i would have made it worse. I know this is the case, because fellow board members saw me as the most positive and solution-oriented board member. When I shared my insecurities and fears, they panicked even more because, and I quote, “If Rob is scared, then we should all be scared.”

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I’m not a fan of the phrase “fake it until you make it” as no one should be faking anything. But in this lockdown, and through many other challenges, leaders must present an anti-vulnerable, unbreakable facade, hide their fears and concerns and instead show a strong and resilient front to others.

Your team must see you as strong and believe that “you have this”. You want your competitors to think you are unbreakable.

Be careful to get exposed and emotional

So while it has become fashionable to openly share everything about our flaws and fears, be careful about exposing vulnerabilities and be aware of the consequences.

Also, make sure you don’t confuse being vulnerable with being emotional. When emotionally triggered, it’s all too easy to share our vulnerabilities in the moment, only to feel significantly better about ourselves in the hours or days that follow once the emotion is gone. By then the damage is done. We’ve shared too much and we can’t turn it back.

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There is a time and a place for vulnerability. You should always ask for help when you need it, and in a balanced emotional state it’s okay to be honest about your weaknesses to trusted and professional people. But too much vulnerability and too much sharing reduces your power and limits the respect others have for you. It can damage your credibility and damage your reputation.

When you are seen as weak and vulnerable, others will wobble when you wiggle. People get scared when you’re scared.

A general wouldn’t tell his troops they have impostor syndrome leading them into battle.

There is a time and a place for vulnerability. It is asking for the right help from the right people. It’s not about sharing it all over social media or in front of those who look to you for leadership and inspiration. It’s not in 1-2-1 meetings or assessments, nor in leadership conversations. It is certainly not for your competitors or critics.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.

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