Originally published in Switch and Shift
We usually think of great leaders as strong, unflappable, all-knowing, all-confident and ready to forge ahead. They have all the answers, they know where they are going, and we trust them without doubt and question.
Wrong! Great leaders are strong but don’t hide all their emotions. They know a lot but not everything, they are confident but not arrogant and they are ready to forge ahead – with the help of their team’s insights and inputs. They want to be challenged and they want hidden assumptions brought to light and questioned.
One of the gifts of the 21st Century is the realization that real leadership is a paradox of trust and vulnerability. Last year, I was privileged to lead a discussion with John Hagel, Saul Kaplan and Mike Waite on this very topic.
Humans tend to model the behavior they see. When leaders appear to be in control, know everything, never doubt, or never ask for help or input, employees think they have to do the same. The behavior they see and deem as acceptable is to be strong, not question, never be wrong, and always know. The opposite behavior is a sign of weakness and is unacceptable.
When leaders show their vulnerability, it gives those around them the freedom to do so as well. Asking for input or help lets employees know you
– Are willing to admit you don’t know everything
– Want diverse and opposing opinions
– Value other’s experience and expertise
– Want to learn and discover
When employees feel they can offer insight and contribute, it makes them feel like they matter. By helping, providing information, and discovering insights, we feel needed and valuable. These traits forge better relationships, which build trust.
Many people feel this ‘soft-stuff’ like trust takes up a lot of time and energy that can be directed towards getting work done. But when we don’t trust, we use up a lot of energy to keep our guards up, check and verify. What if we trusted and allocated all that ‘preserving the guard’ time and energy into getting things done and making an impact?
So, while it is paradoxical, to be a great leader, one must be willing to be vulnerable , to risk being wrong, and to let people in so that they can too. The result? Trust, and a stronger, growing organization.
Thought Leader Profile – Deborah Mills-Scofield [USA]
Deb Mills-Scofield helps companies create and implement actionable, adaptable, measurable, and profitable innovation-based strategic plans. Deb has been doing this successfully for 25+ years with service, manufacturing, and high-technology companies from large global companies to early-stage. She has also done some carve-outs, start-ups and start-downs. Deb asks her clients to match 10% of her fee to improve lives in their community. As a Partner at Glengary LLC, an early-stage Venture Capital firm in Cleveland, Deb asks her clients to mentor an entrepreneur.
Deb is a co-creator of Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder, a contributor to Steve Denning’s book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset, and several other books. She blogs on various sites in addition to her own, including Harvard Business Review, Switch and Shift, Innovation Excellence, etc. and is recognized as one of the top 40 bloggers on innovation. Deb is also a regular at the Business Innovation Factory and a storyteller at BIF-9.