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Earlier this year, I held a two day off site training activity for my management team. It included a day of exploring our team dynamics and the connections that would make us more resilient as a team. Part of the session was an exploration of our vulnerability, conducted under the watchful eye of our facilitator, from the .
The session was a surprise to all of us, as it created an unexpected level of frankness about issues impacting our lives. The day ended very well, with an improvement in our mutual trust and the recognition that we are a very supportive team. It made me reflect on how important vulnerability is in our leadership roles.
We all feel vulnerable sometimes, but for leaders the pressure to perform at a high level means that we are reluctant to admit weakness, even to ourselves. We feel the need to project confidence, certainty and decisiveness, often at the expense of our acknowledgment that we sometimes have no idea what to do next.
I am not advocating a daily confession of faults or family problems, but rather recognition that we are not perfect. You can showcase your vulnerabilities with your team; done well, it will strengthen your connection with your people.
Done with honesty, it will reinforce trust and connection with those that you lead. It will confirm your humanity and make it easier for people to relate to you as a person, rather than a position.
There are three key elements of embracing vulnerability in your leadership roles. Firstly, admit when you are wrong or out of your depth. This acceptance of your vulnerability can become strength, as you recognise that you don’t need to have the answer for everything. You can sit back, acknowledge the need for support and allow your team to guide you with their skill and experience. I am convinced that I have learned more from my teams than I have taught them.
Secondly, accept vulnerability as part of your leadership. Reveal something about yourself with your team – tell a personal story. Often the most powerful stories are those about failure, challenge and adversity. Want some motivation – listen to Diana Keough’s TedX talk “The Power of Personal Story”.
As challenging as these might be they will let your people really know you. Gauge your audience, manage your own confidence, and recognise that honesty in your own stories will establish a lasting connection with your team.
Finally, support and encourage vulnerability in your team members. It will be a challenge to begin with and has the potential to give big rewards. It will be essential for leading the next generation of young people joining our organisations.
Kim Ellis is the Executive Director of Sydney Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands (Australia), responsible for the management of 1,100 hectares of botanical gardens, public parklands and world heritage bushland. These sites host over 30 million visits a year, and operate with a budget of AUD100 million, of which more than 70% is self-funded through commercial operations. Kim has extensive experience in leading diverse, high profile public organisations, including significant public and private airports. He has worked throughout Australia and in the USA, and has spent time in the Australian Antarctic, supporting science operations.