Whenever I get the chance, I go walking along the coast in the morning. I have a measured mile to tell me how far I have gone and, alongside the benefit to my health, I also find it is a great opportunity to think about work plans for the day and beyond.

Even early in the morning, the bay where I go is very popular with walkers, runners and dog walkers. Meeting this variety of people has made me consider the etiquette of saying ‘Good morning!’ Who says it first? If it’s you, do people reply? And if not, how does that make you feel?

One morning I decided to take the initiative, put myself out there and be the one who made eye contact, smiled and greeted my fellow walker first. Even if I wasn’t expecting a reply.

I found that taking that step out of my comfort zone made me feel good, even when people didn’t engage. I think it was due to conquering the fear of being vulnerable. And this is an important aspect of successful leadership.

Weakness, or confidence?

I was brought up by a loving family but within it most of my male role models were current or former members of the Armed Forces. Having myself served in the Royal Navy for 20 years before entering the world of business, I knew that vulnerability was a word rarely used and a concept not often exercised.

And looking back on my career in business – as many of you will no doubt appreciate – it has been equally rare to find leaders or managers who show vulnerability. The prevailing attitude seems to be that vulnerability equals weakness, which promotes a lack of respect for the leader. When in fact I believe the opposite can be true. The confidence to demonstrate vulnerability is more likely to appeal to the empathy of team members, and engender respect.

The teachings of Brene Brown

When I was researching some information for a Graduate Leadership programme I was designing, I came across Brene Brown.

Brene describes herself as a researcher and story teller and has done a great deal of work on vulnerability. I first witnessed her expertise on a TED talk which changed my life, especially her premise that you as a leader cannot empathise with your team unless you demonstrate an understanding, through your own experience, of the vulnerability those you manage have in their own relationship with you as leader.

Putting vulnerability into practice

I have now extended that premise outside my work in business so that it informs my family life as well as how I coach my clients and how I am with my work colleagues.

For example, I now do things where success is not guaranteed. I will put my ideas forward first, believing it is important to set an example of not being afraid that everyone might not agree with those ideas. I will be the first to offer feedback and I will be open and tell people how I am feeling. I say sorry at home and to my children.

Just think about the last time you or your leaders and managers were candid with you and admitted that they had messed up. When was the last time you heard them say something like “I’m sorry, we’ll fix it”? And if you did, how did it make you feel? I suspect you respected their honesty, their self-awareness and also their ability to both recognise and rectify the situation.

In the words of Brene Brown: “To feel vulnerable is to be alive, once you feel worthy greatness will follow.”

If you are in a leadership or managerial position, how often do you show your vulnerability? And does your boss ever show it? Would it improve relationships in your workplace if you, or they, did?

So take a small step first. Next time you are walking by the coast, in town or through your work place and meet someone who haven’t spoken with before, say ‘Good morning’ first. It feels really good!

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