Vulnerability and Self-Improvement

Leadership is often tough. (Just ask any leader who’s leading well–they’ll tell you.) Leaders often find themselves absorbed with leading others and helping them improve; this, in and of itself, is of course a noble and worthwhile pursuit. However, that pursuit, when not in concert with self-development and improvment, can produce leaders wholly disconnected from their own need to improve. Further, followers of such leaders will almost certainly begin to notice that while their leaders encourage them to admit faults, address opportunities to improve, and so on, they do not actually engage in those activities themselves. This may begin to smack of hypocrisy and lack of humanness, and will likely have a detrimental effect on multiple team dynamics.

If pressed to note one thing leaders could do to proactively address this and put themselves in a better position to improve, being vulnerable–being human–in front of their teams would probably be that thing. A leader being vulnerable with his or her team is essential for the success of both the leader and that team. This is true for at least three reasons.

First, when leaders are vulnerable with their teams, by default it produces accountability between the team and the leader. Leaders’ acknowledgments of their shortcomings bring with them an almost implicit commitment to work to improve in those areas. As leaders would expect effort and improvement on the part of team members who were aware of deficiencies, so also will teammates expect effort and improvement on the part of leaders who are aware of their opportunities for growth. This accountability is a very positive phenomenon, as it builds trust, compels the leader to continuously improve, and likely results in the team functioning together more efficiently and effectively.

Second, leaders admitting their faults creates a context within which team members can do the same. As trust is established, and as followers see their leaders regularly admit faults, seek help, and strive to improve, they will feel more able to engage in those same activities themselves. Instead of feeling hesitant to admit mistakes and seek help, they will begin to view them the same way they see their leaders viewing them: as opportunities to grow and learn together. This environment fosters true collaboration, authentic trust, and more efficient teamwork.

Third, individuals who are continuously learning and improving are almost always better at leading. This almost goes without saying, but not quite. Leaders, if not continuously challenging themselves to learn and improve, are in danger of hitting a sort of leadership plateau. Their skills may become stagnant, or even fall off. They will not get better, and they will not motivate others to improve either. Obviously, the more leaders stretch themselves in the way of learning and development, the better they will become at leading others to do the same.

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