Why Strong Leaders Have the Courage to Show Vulnerability


“A great leader needs to love and respect people, and he needs to be comfortable with himself and with the world. He also needs to be able to forgive himself and others. In other words, a leader needs grace.”

~ Leo Hindery, Jr. ~

Bill did his best to model fearlessness, capability, and decisiveness for the people he supervised—all the qualities associated with strong leadership. In all his interactions with them, though, they seemed anxious and afraid. In meetings, he could never seem to spark a robust discussion—they would just give lip service to his questions. He couldn’t understand why they acted just the opposite of the example he tried to set.

Bill didn’t realize that his attitude of invincibility was not actually setting a good example. Rather, playing the part of the fearless leader was stifling discussion and creativity. He was forgetting that success requires risks, and when taking risks, a leader is by nature in a place of vulnerability. His attitude that failure is not an option masked the reality that we all risk failure when we reach toward high goals. Pretending he was invincible showed his deep fear of failure, which is a weakness, not a strength. Like Bill, if you want to become a strong leader in your company, have the confidence to believe that even if you do fail on any one project, you’ll bounce back and succeed in the future. When strong leaders show vulnerability, it projects this confidence to the world.

That doesn’t mean you should walk around griping about your insecurities all day. Rather, just be comfortable enough in yourself to show you know you’re far from perfect, and learn to view mistakes and weakness as learning opportunities.

1. Being authentic

When you show your vulnerabilities, you are being authentic, and that helps others to see you as trustworthy. In other words, let people see your whole self rather than picking and choosing the aspects you want them to see. People can tell whether you’re being authentic or not, particularly when you work with them every day. When you’re authentic with them, they’ll learn to trust you more rather than feeling that on some level you’re deceiving them.

2. Creating a culture of openness

Talking about your own mistakes will help the people you manage and work with to feel comfortable talking about theirs too. This will help create a culture of learning from mistakes by examining, with honesty and transparency, what went wrong. The whole group will then learn from each individual’s experiences, rather than everyone keeping things bottled up inside.

Further, this culture of openness will help your team understand the full history of a project, rather than just knowing it succeeded or it failed. The team will understand how each decision played a part in reaching the final outcome.

Likewise, be transparent about what’s happening with the company, and if you don’t know something, say so. When employees know you’re doing your best to keep them informed, they’ll trust you more.

3. Making team members feel needed

A leader who’s afraid to be vulnerable might fear that if an employee is more intelligent or capable than him in certain ways, that employee might upstage him. A vulnerable leader has let go of the need to be the mastermind behind every decision. Remember that you don’t have to know how to solve every problem to be a good leader. You need to know how to find and nurture the people who do. Don’t feel threatened by their abilities—recruit them actively, and provide them with the mentorship and incentives that will help them succeed. Give team members meaningful responsibilities with opportunities to use their own creativity, and let them know you appreciate that they can do things that you can’t.

4. Being easier to work with

If you’re hard to approach at work, imagine how much energy it takes for people to confront you about their concerns. That energy would be much better spent on team projects than on this unnecessary stress. Being the first to admit your shortcomings makes you more approachable, and it shows insight and self-awareness. It also makes problems easier to correct, allowing work to flow more smoothly. Sharpening your communication skills by learning to listen actively, use open body language, and stay fully engaged will help you make the most of these conversations.

5. Learning to grow

Strong leaders proactively ask for feedback, which puts them in an inherently vulnerable position. They might sometimes feel dismayed by the feedback they receive, but they realize this feedback provides a valuable opportunity to grow. By going outside of your comfort zone to ask for this feedback, you’ll move beyond the limitations that a false sense of invulnerability can impose.

As you become a stronger leader by showing vulnerability in these ways, your team members’ trust and respect for you will grow. Relax, take a deep breath, and let your ability to work with your own imperfection shine.

Make a list of five ways you can show your vulnerability with people you supervise. Try doing one every day over the course of a week. Do you notice a difference in how team members relate to you? Email Joel to discuss your results.

Talkback: Have you ever had a boss who was good at showing vulnerability? Did it help you to grow as an employee? Share your experiences here.

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To Improve Your Team’s Output, Look at it Differently

“To Improve Your Team’s Output, Look at it Differently”

Today’s guest post is by Mike Figliuolo, co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results (you can get your copy by clicking here). You can learn more about Mike and the book at the end of the post. Here’s Mike:

Why do you pay your team members? If you asked them, they might answer “You pay us to work.” If you ask an office-based worker what “work” means to them, you’ll get a list of typical workday activities. They read and write emails. They write reports. They go to meetings and attend conference calls. Those activities that sound appropriate enough, but they don’t give a complete picture of what “work” means to you.

There are two different definitions of “work” in the dictionary. Your team members likely subscribe to the one that defines “work” as “mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment.” Given you’re responsible for your team achieving its goals, you probably lean toward the other one which defines “work” as “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.”

The two definitions are similar in that they revolve around physical or mental activity but they differ significantly on the purpose of the work. The implication here is you must hold your team members accountable for the results they achieve – not the activities they perform. That accountability contributes to the collective results your team delivers. Activities your team members think of as “work” are the inputs that go into getting the real outcome you desire – results that lead you to achieve your goals. Those are the outcomes to assess when placing team members on the Leadership Matrix.

Assessing the Output of Your Team Members

The output question leaders need to focus on is “are my team members producing the results I need given all the investments – pay, equipment, supplies, my time and energy – I’m making in them?” Assess each team member’s output – results that contribute to your team goals. To conduct this assessment, you’ll evaluate five elements of team member output:

What is the quantity of results compared to what is expected or asked of them?

How is the quality of their final work versus what is expected?

How timely is the work they deliver versus expected deadlines or durations?

To what degree do they improve morale in their immediate team?
To what extent do they improve relationships with stakeholders and colleagues outside their immediate team?

By understanding the results someone delivers at a level deeper than the easily measured numbers, you’ll have a sense not only for what they’re delivering but also how they’re delivering it. That new look at the “how” of their results will help you coach and develop them more effectively.

If you’d like to assess your team members and see where they plot on the Leadership Matrix, take our simple assessment. It will give you a sense for not only the results you get from them but what your investment of time and energy is as their leader. That combined picture will give you a much clearer approach to getting the best out of the members of your team.

Mike Figliuolo is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results and the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.


How to Keep Personal Biases
from Making You a Bad Boss



“Good managers have a bias for action.”

~Tom Peters~

No one ever said it was easy being the boss.  In addition to being the point person you are also the fall guy (or gal).  People expect a lot from you and whether you are dealing with employees, clients or higher-ups’ they all tend to come from a place of take-take-take.  Overall it can be an exhausting position to handle…but are certain factors wearing you out more than others?

While you may be a manager, you need to keep in mind that you are human too.  Even if you are not consciously aware of them, hidden biases can affect your decision-making and leadership ability.  This is why it is important to be aware of situations where your personal (sometimes even hidden) biases try to take over.  Read on to learn how to discover your professional biases and more important, how to overcome them.

Lay Your Biases On The Table

Chances are you hired people onto you team because they shared similar ideals and fostered an attitude that matched your work place.  This is common, people tend to gravitate toward people they can relate to; the tendency to act this way actually reinforces your natural biases.  The same thing might happen when dealing with clients or higher-ups’, you want those people to get along with you and might not even realize that your compliance is causing you to adopt their own preferences.

The first step in uncovering your biases is to discover the emotion(s) behind them.  Say for example, that you hate pitching new clients; your bias requires you to avoid the pitch process at all costs.  Now, try to think back to when that “hate” first started.  Perhaps in the past you were publicly embarrassed and ridiculed by a client who did not like your pitch.

If you can come to terms with those emotions (embarrassment, shame) that are connected to your prejudice, then you have a better chance of overcoming it.  Just because you had a bad pitch experience in the past, does not mean that history is going to repeat itself.  Strive to actively work on the professional biases that are holding you and business back.

Refresh Your Leadership Perspective

While you may be able to pinpoint how your biases are holding you back, it may be a little bit more difficult to see how they are holding your team members back too.  Say for example, your distaste for gossip causes you to glaze over the office chatterbox.  Just because you do not like the talkative attribute, does not mean that that employee does not have great qualities to offer.  For example, your office’s social butterfly could be the perfect person to head up your social media accounts.

Flip the example; say as a talkative person, you never really connected with the shy person on your team.  Without really noticing, you might pass pet projects onto people you know better because your shy co-worker never seems to come to mind.  You can see here how personal biases can make you a bad boss.  Just because you don’t like a quality about someone or you don’t necessarily connect to it, does not mean you should pass those people the short end of the stick.

Ask yourself, what are my natural leadership tendencies?  What motivations drive those tendencies?  What emotions are attached to them?  With some introspective thought and exploration, your biases can come to light, and from there you can work on changing them.

Get Input

It’s only natural to foster some personal biases, however you have the power to eliminate them for the better.  Throughout this process, don’t undervalue the power of your team.  Because of the distance, they might be able to spot those tendencies with greater ease than you can.

Share with your team that you’re trying to freshen up your leadership style.  Ask them if they would be willing to share their thoughts on policies and procedures they think would benefit from being changed.

Understand that not everyone will be comfortable critiquing their boss so do your best to provide anonymity with blind feedback. By asking them what things they might like to see a change in, you could open yourself up to other biases and new opportunities for fair improvement.

About the author:Kelly Gregorio writes about leadership trends and tips while working at Advantage Capital Funds, a merchant cash advance provider. You can read her daily business blog here.

Talkback: What career and leadership biases have you uncovered? Share your ideas below.

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Five Fast Ways to Implement
Effective Succession Planning Procedures

handing off baton

“You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.”

~ Zig Ziglar ~

Hans works for a multi-national company.  He was recently put in charge of a department where 10% of the workforce left in the next two months.  They either retired or moved to another job.  This left Hans scrambling to find appropriate replacements.

After the positions were filled, Hans vowed to never let this happen again. He created a Succession Planning Procedure.  These five steps made it easy for him to be proactive and prepared for any vacancy.

1. Identify Key Leadership Positions.  Hans identified those positions that were most critical. Which positions impacted the company’s core competencies the most?  What were the risks if those positions went vacant?  He drew up a list of vital positions.

Hans didn’t do this alone, he called in supervisors and HR to look at the job descriptions and assess them.  What is the function?  What responsibilities does this job have?  What authority?

Then Hans prioritized the leadership positions from vital to minimal impact.  “I considered the problems that would come if a job became vacant. And the learning curve for the replacement,” Hans said.

He factored in whether the current job holder was close to retirement. And he evaluated how marketable the employee was.  Did he have family or life events that made it likely he might change jobs?

2. Assess skills and qualities needed for these leadership positions.  Next in Han’s succession planning procedure, he had a Position Profile created.  What kind of education did this job need?  What level of experience?

He listed the core competencies essential to succeed in the job.  Did they need to be a team player? How vital was communication, innovation, or delegating responsibilities?

Within the Position Profile he listed the five essential competencies needed for each job along with other knowledge, skills, and desirable traits.

3. Evaluated current strength of potential leaders.  “I looked to see the depth of my bench,” Hans said. “How many employees on the sidelines are currently prepared to step into these jobs if needed?”

Hans looked over all his employees. Which ones had the skills sets necessary?  Which ones might be groomed to be able to step up to the plate?  How long would that take?  One year?  Two years? More?

Hans created a working list of possible successors for each job and added it to his procedure.

4. Designed Career Development Strategies.  Hans started working on the best prospects.   He first matched potential leaders with the job skills of the positions at greatest risk and with the highest level of company value.

He used the annual review time to discuss gaining the skills and competencies necessary to move up.  And he helped the employees set appropriate career goals.

Hans worked with his team to choose appropriate career development activities for these key employees. These included participation in vital projects, cross training, course work, working with a mentor, self-study or reading assignments, coaching, work related conferences, and leadership development programs.

“I told employees that participation in these activities was part of the company’s succession planning,” Hans said. “But I made sure they understood it did not guarantee they would be promoted.”

5. Monitored and Evaluated Strategies. Hans was determined not ever to be caught with a high priority talent gap again. He continued to monitor his succession planning procedure.  He reviewed the data on promising employees.

He requested feedback on the annual reviews and suggested monthly reviews to make sure the career development activities were producing the desired results.

“Once we made it a priority,” Hans said, “our succession plan came about quite quickly.  Already we’ve seen results.  First, we have a stronger team.”  He also felt the company would benefit with fewer vacancies, reduced time for new employees to get up to speed, and a general higher standard of workforce in his department.

Learn strategies to help you or your employees prepare to move up. Contact Joel for promotion help.

Talkback: What steps have you taken to set succession planning in place for yourself and your employees?

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When Your Job is “Not Good Enough” How Can You Reach Your Executive Leadership Goal?

Leadership Chart

“Leaders aren’t born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”

~ Vince Lombardi ~

Geoffrey’s been totally focused on doing the best job he can.  He’s been very intent on making sure his job gets done, and done right.  He felt sure this would help him advance his career more quickly.

But when his boss didn’t seem to value Geoffrey’s contributions, he got concerned. What did his boss really want?  Why wasn’t doing his job, good enough?

His goal was executive leadership. To do that, he realized he needed to make some changes.

He needed to make sure his work corresponded with the priorities of his boss and of the CEO.

Here are four things Geoffrey did to align his views with the current executive leadership.

  1. Assess. Spend time thinking about what the CEO might be thinking about.  Put yourself into his place.  What do you think keeps him awake at night?  What worries him? What are the challenges he faces?  When you look through his eyes you get a sense of what his priorities are and where he’s focusing his attention.
  2. Interact. Communicate with other peers and listen to their sense of what is important in the company.  Geoffrey needed to get beyond just his work.  He needed to reach out and connect with others.  As he asked their views on the top goals and values of the company he did two things.
    First, he learned what to focus on to make his work valuable to his boss and move his career forward.  Second he showed respect and interest in the opinions and leadership views of others. As he engaged them, they came to know and trust him as well.  He widened his sphere of influence.
  3. Ask. Geoffrey was direct.  He asked his boss and the CEO what their values and priorities were.  He did this during meeting times in a public arena.  He also requested weekly or monthly one-on-one feedback times.  During those times, he discussed the company and CEO priorities and how he could best align his job with those priorities.
  4. Communicate.  Based on the feedback Geoffrey got from peers and boss, he formulated a plan.  He wrote down the work he needed to do and how it supported the priorities of the boss. Then he shared it with his boss—and the CEO, as in the case of Geoffrey’s small company—for their feedback.

This increased his visibility with the boss and the CEO.  It showed Geoffrey was concerned about giving value to the company and making his work productive and effective.  It also allowed for corrections quickly and easily if Geoffrey’s assessment was off course.

When Geoffrey started implementing this plan of action, he saw immediate results.  He focused his efforts on the things that really mattered to the boss and CEO and received high praise.  His interactions with his peers harvested trust and acceptance.  Geoffrey is acting like an executive leader and is moving toward that leadership position.

For help on how you can step up to executive leadership in your work and capabilities contact Joel.

Talkback: What have you done to insure your work is aligned with the priorities of your boss or CEO?

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