No one really cares about your title as executive or CEO these days because leadership isn’t reserved for those with a corner office. People care more about who you are as a person and how they can connect and relate to you. Can you be trusted? Are you honest? Are you relatable in any way, shape or form? These are questions running in the minds of those you lead.
Leaders who try to present an image of perfection and having it all together will struggle to win the trust and respect of their teams. It’s an unrealistic and unhealthy approach.
Just a few years ago, the Edelman Trust Barometer identified that leaders’ trust among employees was on the decline. The 2019 findings, however, revealed something slightly different: Employees are ready and willing to trust their employer, but not in the “business as usual” fashion. They are looking to be talked with, not at. They are seeking connection and wanting ways to restore credibility.
With this in mind, evaluate the kind of leader you are to your people:
- How do they feel when they leave your presence?
- Do they feel good about themselves or just good about you?
- Can you relate to the experiences they go through? Can they relate to yours?
- Do they see you as their boss or an emblem of authority?
If all your team sees is someone who tells them what to do—a person they only go to when they need answers—then it is time you take a closer look at your leadership. The No. 1 way to make others feel comfortable with you is by being open and vulnerable. But this does not mean using vulnerability as a healing tool for your unresolved wounds or issues. It simply means stripping the professional mask in a setting where it is not needed or necessary. It involves having the etiquette, respect and understanding of your audience to share ways in which you can relate to the human experience.
Vulnerability is a powerful relationship-building tool, but can backfire depending on what it is that’s motivating you to let your guard down with your team.
For example, I once worked with a leader named Jim who had a desire to connect more deeply with his team. He also struggled to maintain a positive outlook after going through a divorce and wondered what his team members did to stay positive. He took everyone out to lunch one day and asked each person to share what their morning routine was and what they did in their spare time. Jim felt the advice they shared could help him be more positive and begin to approach dating. While his intention was good, his timing and context was out of order. The purpose of his share was primarily about him, rather than building a relationship with the team. Needless to say, the attempt did more harm than good. The team gossiped about his approach behind his back. This is the perfect example of vulnerability gone wrong.