Some executives equate leading with infallibility. They assume that they must project an intimidating I-know-everything superiority to earn the respect of their team.
Yet attempting to know it all is an exercise in futility. No one wins. Would-be leaders lose their credibility and employees react with scorn.
Research shows that leaders who are willing to show vulnerability actually strengthen their position and exert more influence. Elliot Aronson, a prominent social psychologist, staged an experiment where he asked subjects to listen to recordings of quiz contestants. In some of the recordings, the subjects heard contestants knock over a coffee cup.
Later, the subjects rated those contestants who spilled coffee as more likable than the others. Aronson concluded that their clumsiness made them more authentic.
When you make a mistake, admit it. Show a willingness to learn from it—and solicit input from those around you.
If people criticize you, listen with openness and ask follow-up questions. Responding without defensiveness boosts your credibility as a leader.
When grappling with a difficult issue, acknowledge your confusion. Say, “I’m balancing lots of ambiguities here, and there’s a lot I don’t know.” Your comment can trigger a stimulating discussion and encourage employees to offer bold ideas.
Avoid acting like a perfectionist. While setting high standards makes sense, allow for occasional mistakes (in yourself and others).
Look for opportunities to admit your imperfections and let others step up and showcase their strengths. If you lack deep understanding of a technical process, for example, invite a specialist to explain it to you.
—Adapted from “Authentic leadership: It’s not for wimps!,” Dov Baron, www.practicalbusinesstraining.com.