StrengthsFinder: Leading Through Vulnerability

“Being vulnerable means knowing who you are and having the courage to share it with the world. To show up, not as who you want to be or who you want people to think you are, but as you, and to be open and welcoming to however the world reacts to it. One of the coolest parts about doing that? When you’re you, it gives other people permission to be them. And that is one of the best gifts you could give.“

-Scott Dinsmore-
Founder of Live Your Legend

Have you ever been around one of those leaders that you wanted to follow? One of those people who you didn’t do things for simply because they told you to, but because they inspired you and you wanted to? What does it feel like when you are on a team where you are doing something not because you have to, but because you want to? Is the motivation different? Do you feel different? Perhaps, it is even a task that you may not enjoy, but you are still motivated and want to do, because you trust your leadership, you trust your team mates and this task has gone simply from something that you have to do, to something you want to do.

As a leader, it is sometimes thought that we cannot show any signs of vulnerability. Perhaps to the people we lead, if we cannot be all things to them, if they have to take the torch at times, we are showing weakness of self and ultimately as a leader. Let’s consider what a leader showing vulnerability can create.  As a strong leader practicing vulnerability, you give your people permission to make mistakes that they can learn from. You give them the freedom to shine as they truly are. This fosters trust on teams and with leaders.

When this is not practiced, people are forced to not be themselves. They strive to be who they are not. They may start losing trust in themselves and their own abilities. Jeremie Brecheisen, a Managing Consultant at Gallup once shared the story in a talk he delivered, regarding a leader he once worked for before his days at Gallup. This leader caused him to believe things about himself that he knew were not true, but begun to doubt. On frequent long trips with this leader, Jeremie was belittled everyday, and told repeatedly that he had no personality, and something to the effect of he wasn’t good with people. Jeremie’s leader would find anything and everything wrong with Jeremie, from his personality to his shoes.  This leader was seemingly exerting his “Strength” and showing Jeremie how weak he was, and why Jeremie would never be good at anything in his job. Throughout Jeremie’s life, he always thought he was strong at connecting with people and winning them over. In fact, he knew he had this gift of connecting with perfect strangers, but after months of enduring this daily mantra from his leader, Jeremie seriously doubted his own talent with people. His leader was attempting to make him who he was not and did this through a very toxic process.

As Jeremie moved on from this organization and took the Clifton StrengthsFinder, he was not Surprised to find WOO (Win Others Over) as one of his dominant StrengthsFinder themes. He did have this talent, but in that role, under a leader who was finding everything wrong with Jeremie possible, his talents were being shelved, and his own trust in himself begun to diminish. The motivations behind Jeremie’s previous leader are unknown, but clearly, he was practicing a leadership style that made him as the leader “strong” and Jeremie  his “weak” employee, in dire need of his “strong” leadership.  Vulnerability for this leader did not seem to enter into the equation…at least not on the leadership side.  However this occurs, when we are forced to try to become that which we are not, we may relentlessly become the part of our self that is small, and live a life never becoming the part of our self that is great. Although we may master the part of our self that is small, there may be a piercing internal voice yelling at us through deafening silence, because deep down, we know there is more to us. Perhaps you have been there…I know I personally have. In the words of philosopher Meng Tzu:

“Those who follow the part of themselves that is great will become great. Those who follow the part that is small will become small.”

Have you ever been under a leader like Jeremie’s? Is that leader helping us to become the part of our self that is great, or forcing us toward the part that is small…AND, when magnified, what does this look like for the team? What if the team is stitched together by a group focusing on where they are small? Do we achieve excellence or rest on our laurels of perhaps mediocrity at best?

As leaders, one of the steps that we can take toward empowering our people to be their brilliance and creating an environment where trust thrives is to practice vulnerability. Our people see us for who we are, and as the late Live Your Legend Founder, Scott Dinsmore mentioned in that opening quote: “gives them permission to be them.”

As you lead, how do you practice vulnerability? How do you foster trust on your team? Understanding and applying your strengths and others strengths is fantastic, but how does vulnerability enter into that equation? Can it be an accelerator for strengthening trust on the team and creating opportunities for others to thrive? How do you, or will you use vulnerability to strengthen your team?

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Darren Virassammy is Co-Founder and COO of 34 Strong Inc. a leader in StrengthsFinder training and consulting. 34 Strong works with organizations across the United States in developing teams around talent to optimize performance and maximize results. His Top Five are: Achiever, Arranger Relator, Learner, Responsibility. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, or Twitter.

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