Leadership, Vulnerability, And Being Human
I get it: Leaders must show vulnerability — but what does that mean? As I think of articles that cover leadership qualities, I wonder if we make this topic far more complicated than it need be.
The authors of these articles are just describing behaviors they see in leaders, attaching multisyllabic words to them (because that’s what writers and consultants do).
But at it’s core, one of the characteristics of great leaders is that they are human. Somehow, leaders and followers seem to think leadership is different, that leaders are on a pedestal and are somehow different–perhaps more superhuman than we mere mortals.
But when I look at the great leaders I’ve known (and I’ve been blessed to have worked for some and been around a number of inspired leaders), what strikes me most is their humanity.
Like all of us:
- They have strengths and weaknesses.
- They aren’t super human or perfect.
- They have dreams.
- They have fears and uncertainties.
- They laugh and cry.
- They make mistakes.
- They get angry and impatient.
- They get frustrated.
- They get confused.
- They need help and want to be helpful.
- Sometimes they listen well, sometimes they don’t.
- Sometimes they take feedback, sometimes they don’t.
- They want to connect with others.
- They want to share experiences with others.
- They worry about trusting and being trusted.
- They sometimes say the right things and sometimes say the wrong things.
- They do tremendously inspired things, at times.
- They do tremendously stupid things, at times.
- They spill coffee on their shirts, burp, and have “bad hair” days.
- They appreciate good jokes and being able to relax.
- They worry about their jobs and whether they will keep them.
- They care about others and want others to care about them.
They are no different than any one of us; they are simply human.
Yet somehow, we tend to treat people in leadership roles as something different. And too many in those roles want to think of themselves as different–perhaps better than others.
They are in their jobs, supposedly, because they have the skills, attitudes, behaviors and capabilities to be excellent in those roles.
But isn’t that what we expect of everyone in each job, whether they are leaders or not?
Rather than suggesting behaviors leaders must adopt, wouldn’t things be much simpler if we just expect leaders to be human?
Rather than setting leaders on pedestals, thinking of them as “different,” aren’t we better off thinking of them as human, trying to excel in their jobs–just like all of us?
Rather than leaders setting themselves apart from everyone else, what if they recognized they are just like everyone else and started acting and behaving as human beings working with other human beings?
Rather than ascribing characteristics of leaders, wouldn’t we be better served by ascribing characteristics of top performance in each role–then put people in those roles who have those characteristics/competencies? Shouldn’t we be doing this for every role in the organization?
Somehow, this notion seems much more simple than all the other things, like demonstrating vulnerability, and so forth, that we talk about when we talk about leadership.