How Vulnerability is a Powerful Leadership Trait

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Joe worked hard to show the world he was a success. He knew the right outfit and the best car would project an air of accomplishment, of talent, that everyone else lacked. Yet, he struggled in the office, though no one would ever know it.

Until he broke down again in the bathroom. He had just lost another person on his team, the fourth this year, and he’d had enough, but he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t connecting with his team like he had done in years past.

Before, he was a teddy bear when it came to nailing down their needs and making them feel at home working with him. Then, he decided that he could do even better by “stepping up his game”. He worked on transforming it all.

The perfect smile.

The perfect suit.

The perfect car.

Joe had figured it all out. He was now the master of the universe. He knew what he needed to do to score big in the new year. “If they see me as a success, they’ll buy into my vision even more”, he thought.

What he didn’t know is that being perceived as perfect that he worked so hard on, worked against him. He knew they had to like him and trust him to do great work with him. That’s the first thing he learned from that leadership 101 class in Newark, NJ when he became a manager. But what he failed to realize is that all that “perfection” made him look, well, invincible. And invincible is unattractive — and doesn’t sell nor scale over time.

Eric found him distraught in the parking garage and he tried to hide his tears. Eric and Joe had been friends for years…until the big change, at least. So when he saw him upset, he wanted to help.

He reminded Joe that he was only human just like the rest of us. That he was a success…before the big change. Eric explained how much everyone loved and trusted the old Joe, the “guy” who took care of everyone else first. When he was tripping in the halls, everyone adored the way he giggled and moved right on. When he shifted away from her down-to-earth demeanor, everyone else shifted away from him.

He was no longer “lovable” or endearing. His warm smile turned cold.

Create Connection

Perfection creates distance between you and others, which is why Joe wasn’t connecting with others like he used to.

You, like Joe, want their trust. You need them to like you. And they can’t like you if they feel like you feel like you’re above them, if they don’t sense a warmth or feel a connection to you.

Want them to know, like, and trust you?

Be Fallible

They see themselves in you. They connect with you. The distance that perfection creates is smashed by imperfection.

And that’s the zone where your deepest connections with others will come from.

This isn’t just my opinion. This is science. In 1966, Dr. Elliot Aronson described what is now known as The Pratfall Effect. Making mistakes (being vulnerable) increases your likeability. It increases your chances of success when you’re in the field or in the office. Because when they like you, respect you and can now relate to you, they can trust you.

Dr. Aronson tested the Pratfall Effect by allowing groups of people to listen to a recording of people answering a quiz, during which a person knocks over a cup of coffee. They would, then, rate the recordings. The ones of the quiz with the spilled coffee were rated more likeable than the others.

So when they see you make mistakes just like they do, they can relate. They see themselves in your imperfection. They welcome you into their hearts.

Don’t sweat tripping or falling in front of your team. They won’t see a klutz, they’ll see a human being just like them.

Don’t worry if you made a mistake scanning the copies for the meeting, it’ll only make your team love you more.

Don’t worry if you didn’t intend to send that email to Jane. You’re human.

Mistakes once in a while are forgivable and endearing, so don’t be so hard on yourself.

Want them to love you? Want them to follow you? Be imperfect. Be Human. Be real!

Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, once said, “The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability… When the leader demonstrates vulnerability and sensibility and brings people together, the team wins.”

Written by

Keynote Speaker | Mindfulness Maven | Happiness Muse | Author | Diversity & Inclusion Advocate |

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