At the beginning of my career, after a business negotiation gone wrong, my sales manager told me something like this: “Don’t worry about the lost contract; I want the real person. I want your mistakes. I want your honesty. Always give me your positive and negative thoughts, give me anxiety and give me insight. Do not try to be invulnerable, but be okay with your imperfections. Too many people just want the good parts without enduring the bad. That’s not real. That’s not how things happen.”
I’ve learned many lessons through my years, but without question, the most surprising thing I learned was that: the thing you can do that will make you the strongest leader is the thing that is most unreasonable to do. That’s to be vulnerable.
I’m not crazy, I know that we have all been educated to think that being vulnerable means being weak, which is the exact opposite of strong. But being a perfectionist is an illusion.
In fact, people and leaders who won’t embrace imperfection are simply not authentic.
Sometimes — really, often — we put so much pressure on ourselves to constantly strive toward perfection. In those cases we end up losing out on recognizing the small wins that we have throughout our day, not appreciating what is around us, and we waste energy and make mistakes.
Instead of spending our evenings decompressing, or making the time to spend with our loved ones, we are so focused on doing better tomorrow that we may rarely be entirely present. Moreover, perfectionist tendencies have been associated with anxiety, depression, insomnia, self-harm, and aggressive behavior.
It takes courage to admit that you are not perfect. It takes courage to acknowledge that you cannot control the outcomes, especially when your entire job is to produce outcomes. The most you can do is live your life controlling your best efforts to produce outcomes.
The real truth is that you will never achieve perfection, so the most you can do is live your life in honest pursuit of it.
Embracing vulnerability takes all kinds of courage, but the strength it gives you can become your most valuable asset.
But how can you start to embrace your imperfection, your vulnerability, your true self to become a better leader?
Here are 5 tips on keeping a vulnerable but strong attitude as a leader:
1. Express your good and bad self
Look at yourself as a whole. It can help you sidestep the pitfalls and become a better leader. You can’t think about your strengths without your weaknesses; weaknesses are based in strengths. For example, the traits that made Steve Jobs a genius also made him difficult to work for.
2. Transform your weaknesses into strengths
Not being able to acknowledge your own imperfections is a weakness on its own. Conversely, accepting them makes you a stronger person and a better leader, because your weaknesses can become your armour against stagnancy in your career.
Great leaders aren’t born; they are made. In order to become one, you must immerse yourself in the process of accepting your weaknesses, letting them keep you grounded, and finding ways to improve.
3. Be transparent and humble with your team
Talk with your team about your weaknesses. Transparency can feel vulnerable, but it’s empowering to your team if you’re willing to say, “Here are my strength areas, and this is where I might disempower you.’”
Sharing your weaknesses doesn’t undermine your authority, as Jonathan Raymond, author of Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For says. It actually allows you to become stronger. “Do you think anyone who works for you doesn’t already know where you’re weak?” asks Raymond. “It’s already out there, and the only one who isn’t talking about it is you.”
4. Mistakes are not failures, but learning experiences
People often overlook the value of learning as you go. We like to have all the information before starting an endeavor. This is the ideal — which is hardly ever a reality. Imperfect people make mistakes. A mistake shows that you’ve attempted something new, and signals that you need to alter your process. Mistakes can be great because, through them, you can stumble upon a solution.
Becoming a better leader is about recognizing that many of your successes happen through mistakes.
5. Start to delegate and engage
This is such an important aspect of becoming a better leader. The greatest advantage of working with and in a team is that everyone brings something unique to the table. As a whole, your team can operate as a “super-charged” employee — but to achieve success, you must involve your employees in some of the decision-making.
It is important to note that imperfection also binds people together. Showing vulnerability is an attractive quality because it displays your humanity.
Employees are more likely to take risks and be vocal about ideas they have when they feel empowered.
The way to get people to be engaged is to be more engaged with them. Just be careful that vulnerability doesn’t morph into insecurity.
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