How to show authenticity and courage in leadership

When we think of the qualities that make a good leader, authenticity and courage might be top of the list. However, a research professor at the University of Houston, has challenged the meaning of these two words in business, suggesting that vulnerability is actually the key to being courageous. Dr Brené Brown, a bestselling author and presenter, has studied vulnerability for the last two decades, and she believes that asking for help takes courage.

When we live in a society where confidence triumphs, asking for help can often be seen as a sign of weakness. Admitting that you can’t manage on your own is tough, with the belief that doing something solo and succeeding shows strength, power and ability, boosting your status among others. However, Brown suggests that the key to brave leadership is looking at vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. She believes that when people find the courage to ask for help, it has a positive knock-on effect, showing others that it’s okay to do the same. In turn, this creates a culture of openness, communication and the ability to work together to achieve a shared goal. Teamwork is enhanced and strengthened, building trust in the workplace.

Brown believes that the connections we make with others is why we are here, and it gives purpose and meaning to our lives. It is having the courage to be ourselves which enables us to make true connections. Embracing our vulnerabilities is a necessity, believes Brown, who found this was the link between people who were able to make strong connections with others. “They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful,” she said.

As humans, we tend to focus on the negatives. Brown says: “When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.”

Brown realised that it is shame, or the fear of disconnection, that holds us back and stops us being our true selves and showing our vulnerability. However, those who embrace their vulnerability are able to succeed and be happy.

For leaders, it is important to show staff that vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness. Admitting you have faults, asking for help and embracing your weaknesses shows that you are human, too. It enables others to connect with you and follow by your example.

Teams work best when using each other’s strengths. We can’t all be good at everything, so recognising how people work best and adapting to this will ensure that teams succeed together. This, in turn, creates a stronger team, who work together for a shared goal.

When someone asks for help, be positive about their courage and reward them with praise. Listen to their needs and do something to help them, don’t ignore their concerns. However, remember that it might take time and effort to encourage everyone to ask for help when they need it. People fear being judged if they ask for help. That’s why it’s vital as a leader to communicate. Hold regular one-to-ones, team meetings and continuously check-in with staff. If you provide opportunities for people to say they aren’t coping, then they are more likely to share this with you.

Whilst showing vulnerability might be outside many people’s comfort zones, remember that we are all vulnerable. We all need help from time-to-time. We can’t do everything ourselves. The best leaders are those who lead by example. So, head into the new decade prepared to do just that.

Show your vulnerabilities, ask for help when you need it, and embrace and accept your weaknesses for who you are. If you show your authentic self, others will follow.

To find out more about Brené Brown click here.

To purchase her book Dare to Lead on Amazon click here.