When Should Leaders Let Their Guards Down?

January 12, 2023

climbing a tall ladder

Overview: Leadership vulnerability is a strength that allows leaders to connect with employees on a human level, building mutual trust and improving productivity. Leaders who adopt attitudes predicated on honesty and openness find it easy to determine when they can let their guards down. Vulnerable leaders are courageous leaders ready to embrace change and steer organizations towards sustainable success.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brene Brown.

The old paradigm of leadership used to see vulnerability as a weakness on the part of the leader. Leaders were supposed to be all-knowing entities that never made mistakes. Psychologists have long known, however, that the myth of infallible leaders hurts leadership, trust, employee engagement, and productivity.

Authenticity requires courage. Courage requires leaders to show up and let others see them. Courage and vulnerability are interdependent and inseparable. Only vulnerable leaders can be courageous, and courageous leaders must be vulnerable.

Leadership coaching sees vulnerability as leadership strength. Leadership coaches encourage clients to show vulnerability and get used to treating it as an indispensable part of their authentic selves.

Why Is Vulnerability Strength? 

Vulnerability smells like truth and tastes like courage. People can sense authenticity. Vulnerability is the primary path through which we perceive authenticity. People are fully authentic when they let their guards down. Those who let their guards down allow others to see them as they are, with their strengths and weaknesses on display.

Authenticity and honesty breed trust. Employees trust leaders who are vulnerable and authentic. Leadership coaching recognizes trust as the foundation of intelligent leadership.

When Should Leaders Let Their Guards Down? 

Honesty and vulnerability start with admitting mistakes and shortcomings. Like employees, leaders are human. As such, they can’t possibly know everything or have all the answers. When they don’t, instead of pretending they do, they can delegate problems to others who can solve them better or bring in those with the right knowledge.

Leadership vulnerability is an attitude of honesty and openness. Executive coaching urges leaders to adopt this attitude. Once they do, they’ll know when to let their guards down.

Leaders can’t be vulnerable all the time. Employees look to them for guidance and inspiration in difficult situations. Often, they must be the rock others rely on as solid reference points during storms. Honesty and openness allow leaders to instinctively and effortlessly know when they must act the part of a rock and when they can appear vulnerable.

Delivering an Emotionally-Charged Speech

Leaders must sometimes deliver bad news to peers and employees. Many think being stone-faced about such news is the optimal delivery method. People appreciate honesty, however. If problems cause a leader as much heartbreak as they do to employees, there’s no reason to hide these emotions.

Presenting to a group

Emotions allow leaders to connect with followers. 

Speeches carrying honest emotions are more genuine and strike chords with audiences.

When the Going Gets Tough

Contrary to the adage, when the going gets tough, the tough may get genuinely emotional.

If teams have a tough week or month, smiley and cheerful leaders may come off as fake and undeserving of trust. Executive coaching says honesty is the indispensable prerequisite of trust.

Leaders unafraid of lowered guards are aware of their teams’ needs. They know turning employees into work-obsessed zombies is not the path to sustainable success.

When Dealing with Struggling Clients

Clients appreciate humanity, honesty, and genuine support as much as employees do. Businesses should not aim to become best friends with clients, but providing understanding and emotional connections can make a world of difference in the client experiences the organizations offer.

When Needing Help

Leaders and employees alike need help sometimes. A lowered guard allows a leader to ask for help without inhibitions.

Successful teams value the contributions of every member. The same is true of successful organizations. The role of hired hands is to help those who hire them. A leader who doesn’t need help has no one to lead.

Leadership vulnerability has another profoundly positive implication. It fosters a culture of vulnerability, honesty, and trust throughout an organization. It allows teams to connect on a human level, supporting and coaching each other to succeed.

Contact us to learn more about how you can join the IL Movement as a coach or how you can benefit from partnering with us to bring IL Solutions to you and your organization.

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