Strong leaders are traditionally perceived as being highly confident and having a tough exterior. But according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, there’s a case to be made for leaders who make themselves vulnerable — especially in the current world we live in. “In a complex and uncertain world that demands constant learning and agility, the most apt and adaptable leaders are those who are aware of their limitations, have the necessary humility to grow their own and others’ potential, and are courageous and curious enough to create sincere and open connections with others,” write authors Amy C. Edmonson, the Novartis professor of leadership management at Harvard Business School and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup and a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University.
There’s plenty of evidence that vulnerable leadership leads to success both for the individual and the team they’re leading. The authors point to people like Oprah Winfrey, “who became the first Black female billionaire in history thanks to a multitalented entrepreneurial career that put vulnerability and authenticity at the center,” and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “who resurrected Microsoft by transforming its culture based on his own core drivers: humility, curiosity, and constant learning.”
Here are just a few of the ways Edmonson and Chamorro-Premuzic outlined how leaders can become more vulnerable with their team:
Tell the truth. Edmonson and Chamorro-Premuzic encourage leaders to share their “candid perspective” with others, admitting what they know and what they’re not so sure about. “Although it is easy to tell people what they want to hear, the best leaders tell people the truth, no matter how traumatic,” the authors write. “When you are clear about the challenges ahead, you help your team.”
Ask for help. “Leadership is not heroic,” the authors write. Leadership shouldn’t be about the single person in charge, they said, but instead the leader’s ability to bring people together as a team. “This requires you to be honest about your vulnerabilities and your need for their support,” Edmonson and Chamorro-Premuzic write.
Engage others in your self-improvement journey. Edmonson and Chamorro-Premuzic wrote that over their coaching and consulting careers, they have seen some leaders who were serious enough about personal development that they openly shared feedback — such as their own performance reviews — with their teams. One leader, for example, admitted that they learned that they’re not good at giving feedback or developing others’ performance, so they committed to communicating more with their team and mentoring others to advance their own leadership skills.
Admit your mistakes and apologize. When leaders misstep, no matter how disappointed team members are, they will appreciate transparency “and trust you more than if you lie to them,” the authors write. “Failing to admit you were wrong is an ineffective strategy to persuade others that you are right, and when that strategy fails, people will question not only your judgment, but also your self-awareness.”