The idea that strong business leaders must be in some way exceptional or superior to others in their field and never make mistakes is a worn-out stereotype and not based in reality.
While some people in positions of power may worry that showing any vulnerability will make them look weak or ineffective, the truth is, people value leaders who are real with them. Being open and honest about your own shortcomings as a professional can build trust and inspire confidence in those you lead.
Effective leaders normalize failure and promote personal growth
If you read the autobiography of any well-known business leader or entrepreneur, almost all of them include a story of failure (or many failures) in their past.
Before founding Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford’s first two car companies failed miserably. Billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates was involved in a completely unsuccessful (and unfortunately named) venture called Traf-O-Data early in his career. Even the iconic Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first news anchor position.
Stories of success after failure inspire people to keep working hard to overcome their own challenges and pursue their dreams. An inspirational leader can use their personal stories to show their team that everyone makes mistakes and it’s okay, as long as you continue to learn and grow from them.
As Oprah said: “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”
Showing confident vulnerability is good for business
Seeing their leaders be authentic and vulnerable can give people confidence to overcome their own challenges. At work, a confident but vulnerable leader can foster an environment where employees feel empowered to take risks, which is key to creativity and innovation.
In his article for the Harvard Business Review, Dan Cable, professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, describes how great leaders can show moral humility:
“You can create long-term improvements in your team’s psychological safety by sharing some of your personal developmental journey,” writes Cable. “Talk to your team about times in your life when you stumbled and got constructive feedback that you needed to improve and adapt. When leaders reveal their trip-ups and failures — rather than hiding them — they are seen as more approachable and less arrogant. Revealing these learning moments also signals that you are not threatened by feedback.”
Self-awareness is critical to authentic leadership
To be vulnerable and share openly about their own mistakes and missteps, leaders must have enough self-awareness to identify those things in the first place. It’s not uncommon to encounter a person who has managed to attain a significant leadership position, while not fully capable of recognizing their own shortcomings.
As entrepreneur and philanthropist, Regan Hillyer writes in Forbes, “Being a leader who speaks from the heart, from experience, and from a place of genuine vulnerability is a powerful business tool. This, however, is contingent upon knowing and seeing one’s own weaknesses and strengths and then growing and building on the ensuing personal self-development from that self-knowledge.”
Prioritizing both personal and professional development at all levels of an organization can help business leaders and their teams better understand themselves and each other.
Start your developmental journey with the Birkman Assessment
Learning more about yourself and your unique motivations can help you become a more confident leader. To help AKPsi members on their own development journeys, the Birkman Method Assessment has been made available at no cost to all collegiate members by the AKPsi Foundation and the Fraternity’s Brotherhood Unbounded program.
If you’re an alumni member interested in taking the assessment, you can also access it at a discounted rate. Just reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.