When most people think of resiliency, they imagine someone bouncing back after a big loss. But perhaps that’s an oversimplification. When I think of resiliency, I consider the men and women I’ve watched weather some of the toughest storms and come out stronger than ever.
Being resilient means using post-loss downtime to seek out honest feedback (from others and ourselves). Armed with the knowledge of how to better navigate future situations, we re-engage to strategically improve.
This kind of resilience is especially important in the workplace. We don’t make it as far without taking risks, and if the potential for failure doesn’t exist, we likely aren’t removing ourselves far enough from our comfort zones. To be resilient, we must say goodbye to the shoreline and sail into new seas. In fact, a 2016 study found that a lack of resilience drastically affects employees’ attitudes, attendance, and productivity. More broadly, it can affect every aspect of our lives.
Rise of the Vulnerable Leader
As a leadership coach, I’m often privy to people’s thought processes. You’d be surprised how long a single setback can really, well, set someone back. We sometimes think we’re expected to be perfect, and with this mindset, our mistakes can shake our confidence for years. While striving for (and never attaining) perfection touches all of us, it seems men may feel even more external pressure — which is later internalized — to fit into a perfect mold.
Society often tells men they shouldn’t be vulnerable, especially in the workplace. But vulnerability is a vital part of the human condition. As Brené Brown says in her now famous TED Talk on the subject, vulnerability is necessary.
So as people gradually work their way into leadership roles, something else is at work in the background. The pressures of perfection mount. That chase for perfection — and the disappointment that ensues when it can’t be reached — can make setbacks even harder to handle.
The fear of feeling vulnerable again takes hold.
Unfortunately, trust can’t be built among subordinates or co-workers without embracing vulnerability. Without it, a team may never form the type of bond you see in the military or even a sports team — one that’s resilient and provides continued support.
As sports psychologist Graham Betchart suggests, people can relate when they can connect. I find those who are most vulnerable are also the most confident in their personal value, too. When everyone is vulnerable on the team, we’re closer to our true selves.
Of course, this doesn’t always happen so smoothly (or at all). And there can be repercussions because of it. I once worked with a consultant who was too busy proving his worth to listen to clients. His overcompensation led to even bigger problems, and even after peers confronted him, he refused to see it. But it doesn’t always shake out in such a negative way.
I have clients who see and understand their unrealistic expectations of themselves, and they work to change them. One cared about his employees but wouldn’t let them into his world. Once we built trust, I challenged him on it. Realizing the wall he’d put up was standing in the way of his own success, he started tearing it down. In time, he earned a lot of respect — not for what he could do, but for who he was.
So how do you follow his lead?
4 Steps to a Better You
As leaders, our job is to make those around us better. Our success is measured in their successes. By putting these four pieces of advice into practice, you’ll become the vulnerable, resilient leader of a highly effective team:
1. Know and live out your purpose. Before you do anything, know why you’re doing it (and how it ties into the big picture). Identify your higher calling. Perhaps it’s niche or specific, like helping to develop others’ skills so they’re ready to replace you when you retire. Or maybe it’s creating jobs for people to support their families. Knowing this will make you a bolder, more confident leader.
2. Aim your strengths. It’s important to understand how we’re wired when it comes to reaching the best version of ourselves. Gallup reports that employees who leverage their strengths every day are more productive and engaged at work. This ties into how you delegate and utilize the different strengths on the team to maximize everyone’s contributions.
However, our strengths can also become weaknesses if we’re not careful. For example, John is a vice president whose strengths (according to Gallup’s CliftonStrengths) include Woo, Ideation, and Positivity. He’s a master of sales, solutions, and relationships — all of which play to his strengths. However, he’s also aware his overly positive outlook occasionally makes him gloss over real barriers. Knowing that, John hires teammates who excel at the granular details that exhaust him. This makes his team even stronger, as everyone’s contributions are recognized.
3. Depend on others. To reiterate, when all members of a team let down their guards, they’re closer to who they really are. So instead of hoping our peers see us as invincible, they should see us as human. Ultimately, we bounce back easier when we have support systems. When we’re honest about our fears and weaknesses, healthy vulnerability breeds more healthy vulnerability. We’re trusting others with our challenges, allowing them to encourage and help us through whatever we’re facing.
4. Take time to reflect. Reflection is important to growth, so I always encourage weekly reviews to examine what’s working and how to improve. Think of it like a football team reviewing game footage to improve for an upcoming match. Additionally, don’t let this personal growth stay in the workplace. Let it touch all aspects of your life.
The freedom that comes with being an authentic, vulnerable individual is powerful. When you achieve it, you and your team can reach heights you never thought possible.
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