To Be Successful You Need to be Vulnerable

tag Leadership

One peek at your Slack channels and I could probably tell you if your company is destined for success or not. One glance over an internal email from the CEO and a few seconds in a stand up and I’m certain.

What am I looking for? Whether your company is the sort that focuses on success or dwells on failure.

The Problem with Success

As your first thought, maybe you’d think that growing a culture of winning and celebration is a recipe for future success. That announcing deals signed and new partnerships formed should encourage other employees to aspire to greatness and fill the office with a healthy buzz of ambition. And to an extent it does.

But the issue starts to reveal itself when you begin to think of which people get the glory. 

An executive may announce to the company the three main drivers who spearheaded the success of a recent feature release. Or a saleswoman may broadcast the latest deal her subordinate has managed to bring in. 

What happens to the rest of the team who supported these results? Which departments will never feel the shower of praise like IT or HR, for instance, that are mainly operations expected to run faultlessly and only ever recognized when something goes wrong?

Of course congratulating people for their hard work should never be a bad thing, but perhaps it can be done less publicly. The fact is that some employees will never receive the recognition they deserve because it’s just not the nature of their job. 

Concentrating on the success of a few can lead to bitterness and decreased productivity, which can spread wildly throughout the company.

Admitting Shortcomings is Hard

So perhaps a more efficient route to building a successful company is to focus less on the winning and more on the struggles along the way. 

Of course this is not a new idea. We’ve all heard that the Silicon Valley greats, like Google, are huge advocates of celebrating ineffective ideas so that they can move swiftly on to the next innovation.

But your average company, which feels a lot of pressure from the board and perhaps investors too, is less eager to promote all the faults surfacing from each department. They are more concerned about highlighting a booming business that keeps raking in deal after deal.

Though from the outside the failing culture may not look so fruitful, speaking up about the bad can lead to ongoing success internally, which translates in the long run to your external image.

Failure is a Strength

One reason leading companies have taken to promoting failure is to encourage the killing of average ideas and seek out the new ones. Teams are pushed to question existing ideas, change their minds, pivot their direction and continue experimenting until they come across that one great, money-making innovation.

Secondly by examining the rejects, you can pinpoint what and when went wrong. Educating your team or your whole company on this feedback is surely more valuable than highlighting a handful of successful projects, whose contributors are already basking in their achievements.

Thirdly, and most dangerously, skipping over failure can make it seem like it simply does not exist (or is not tolerated) in your organization. Employees that have made a mistake may be tempted to cover up their miscalculations at the risk of appearing vulnerable.

Vulnerability in Business

But vulnerability may indeed be your biggest strength. Many believe that by opening themselves up to criticism, they may also lose respect and authority from the team. However breaking down these barriers can in fact massively promote motivation.
People want to relate to their managers as individuals and learn how to overcome obstacles that come their way. Creating transparency builds trust between you and your team. In addition we respond positively to people we feel a personal connection with and are more likely to exert higher amounts of effort for their causes.

Leaders are not responsible for always being right. But they are held accountable for motivating their team and ensuring they perform at the best of their ability, finding new solutions and opportunities along the way.

Exposing Weakness Can Foster Innovation

When leaders admit their mistakes they secure respect and set an example for the rest of the team. The team as a result is more engaged in the wider company goals and becomes more accountable. They are encouraged to take on an entrepreneurial attitude that stimulates initiative and innovation.

The act of opening yourself up can position your company for success in multiple ways. Your team becomes more trusting and more ready to admit their mistakes. This leads to greater motivation and engagement that goes on to encourage accountability and entrepreneurship, setting the stage for a hive of innovation. 

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