Leaders are vulnerable, too

Recently I was interviewed by Charity Village for their Leadership Series.  (Quite an honour considering the list of other non-profit leaders interviewed for this series.)

In the article, I reflected on vulnerability as an enabler of leadership.  I had some great feedback from colleagues in the non-profit field but I wondered how it would resonate with “mainstream” entrepreneurs.  Are there CEO’s out there in traditional companies who are comfortable expressing vulnerability, not only as a component of their leadership style but as an actual leadership asset?

So I was pleased to come across an interview in the New York Times (Sunday, October 10, 2010) by Howard Schultz, chairman, president and chief executive of Starbucks who proudly claims that “one of the underlying strengths of a great leader and a great CEO – not all the time, but when appropriate, is to demonstrate vulnerability, because it will bring people closer to you and show people the human side of you.”

If you are lucky enough to land in the position of CEO, or if you get there by starting your own company, you often have doubts.  Can I really do this job?  Do I have what it takes to make this company a success?  I’m sure you do but it’s not likely you can do it all with the same level of skill.  You will excel at certain parts – that’s why you got the job – but you need to work on becoming self-aware.  You need to assess your strengths and then open yourself to where you need help.  But as Schultz states, “very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO.  They’re not going to tell you that but it’s true.  So everyone you meet has a level of insecurity.  The level of insecurity that you have is a strength not a weakness.  The question is how are you going to use it.”

I would suggest the first step is accepting your own vulnerability.  Stop trying to prove you deserve the job.  Accept that you are great at certain components but that you need to find others to round out your experience and to enable you to succeed.  The secret lies in finding those who will allow you to be vulnerable and still accept your leadership.  Once you find those people, hold on to them and make them a vital part of your team.  Together you are headed for success.

I’ll drink a tall Tazo Chai Tea Latte – low fat – to that!

Allyson Hewitt

Allyson is the JW McConnell Family Foundation Senior Fellow, Social Innovation at MaRS, where she has been leading the SiG@MaRS program; advising social entrepreneurs; building the social innovation ecosystem; and incubating successful programs such as the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, the MaRS Solutions Lab and Studio Y. See more…