Unlikely Leadership Superpower: Vulnerability
When you’re new to leadership, or in a new leadership position, it’s tempting to think that you need to impress those around you with your intelligence, your leadership skills, your insight, etc. But often our efforts to impress have exactly the opposite effect. GMN cofounder, Keith Krach, points out that we all have fears, flaws, and failures. Everybody knows this. As a leader, one of the best things you can do is to come right out with it -- be the first to admit your shortcomings. You’ll be surprised at the positive impact it can have on your team.
Krach recalls in the early days of Ariba when the company was a year old, it hit a dry spot in sales. The employees were eager to do everything they could to drum up more revenue. They accelerated sales and marketing plans, and in the midst, there was chaos.
He realized that while they meant well, team members were working at cross purposes. He decided it was time to pull back and hold a company offsite to get organized and get people moving in the right direction. During this offsite, Keith did an exercise that most CEOs wouldn't dream of doing. He asked his team to list his strengths and weaknesses. His employees were brutally honest. At the end of the exercise, he saw that he had seven strengths, but they listed 21 weaknesses. Ouch!
“For my strengths, they listed seven qualities that, of course, made me beam. But when it came time for my weaknesses, they listed 21—three times as many! Not that easy to hear, but incredibly valuable input,” said Krach.
Feedback can be difficult to swallow. To manage all of the items in bite-sized pieces, Krach decided to put them into three buckets-naturally seven weaknesses in each bucket.
Bucket #1 is for weaknesses he already knew about and was working on. For example, he knew sometimes he would move too fast on critical decisions. Sometimes he thought he knew the solution to a problem or the next strategic chess move because he had done it before at a previous company. So he went right to the answer and didn't take people on the journey of the thinking behind it. This is something he needed to keep working on.
Bucket #2 was super-valuable. These were blind spots that he didn’t know about before. There were some comments that sometimes he puts together timetables for projects that are too demanding. He didn’t realize this was affecting people’s family life, because everybody wanted to please him.
Bucket #3 are the one he believes they were just wrong about. Krach recalls, "Somebody mentioned that when there's a disagreement on the team, I always side with the last person out the door. I don't believe I do this, but perception is reality, so I'm going to take the initiative to demonstrate that this isn't happening. If it's a real weakness, I guess I'll be fixing it."
Being open to feedback and receptive to criticism not only provided a more even playing field with his employees, but it humanized Krach and helped create a culture at Ariba where people felt safe to speak up and show their vulnerabilities too.
Creating a safe environment is key to building trust within your organization and being a successful transformational leader. Remember, if you think your company environment might be unsafe, it is unsafe. But even if you think it’s safe, it still might not be. It's best to keep in mind that most people need some encouragement to open up. And you've got to keep taking actions to demonstrate that it's ok to do so-going through this exercise at the offsite reinforced that strong sense of safety.
"We had a fantastic discussion about the company, about what was working and what wasn't. We got a lot off our chests and became tighter as a team.
In fact, that offsite was such a success that I asked each of the VPs to do the same exercise with their individual departments. I told them, I don't think you'll have 21 weaknesses! You may only have two or three. But think what a safe environment you'll create for your team if you do that!” recalled Krach.
This was a way for us to cascade that safe environment through the whole organization and reinforce that culture throughout Ariba."
Harnessing your vulnerabilities will only make you stronger. Ignoring them or pretending you do not have any will only reinforce negative sentiments about you or your organization.
For more insights on building trust and motivating your team to do great work, check out our lessons from our renowned mentors on GMN. net