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Building situational humility and vulnerability

No one enjoys being vulnerable at work, especially as leaders. We’ve been taught that leaders need to show confidence, charisma, and courage, so vulnerability seems way off from what is expected of us. The truth is good leaders understand that leading with humility means being vulnerable at times to your team. This means knowing when to stand firm in your beliefs and when the situation calls for you to lead with humility and compassion. Showing vulnerability as leaders will help build a psychologically safe environment at work for your team members because they will not fear being ostracized for showing hesitations or uncertainties. When leaders are open and honest about their mistakes and shortcomings, they become more approachable to their team members who might otherwise be wary of saying the wrong thing or appearing weak in front of their boss.

More than anything, building personal relationships with your team members and actively listening and supporting them are undoubtedly the essentials to being a good leader. A leader who puts people first and demonstrates empathy, humility, and vulnerability is someone who leads with a human-centred approach. This model of leadership strives to create a workplace environment where all members feel heard, validated, and psychologically safe to speak their opinions. When a leader shifts their focus and priority from solely focusing on productivity to creating genuine connections with people, they need to adjust their thinking and learn to adapt to the needs of their team. After all, a human-centred approach to leadership means putting people first and being transparent with your expectations and intentions.

Why is psychological safety important?

Amy Edmondson from Harvard University coined the term “psychological safety” in a 1999 paper exploring its impact on team performance. According to Edmondson, “Psychological safety means an absence of interpersonal fear. When psychological safety is present, people can speak up with work-related content.” Leaders need to create an environment where team members feel psychologically safe to express workplace concerns and voice their opinions because authentic and open conversations are crucial in building strong relationships within a team.

What is the difference between humility and vulnerability?

As a leader, humility means having the strength to ask for help regardless of how you may be perceived. Vulnerability means being willing to share things about yourself in situations where you cannot control the outcome. Being able to admit to your shortcomings is a sign of humility and acknowledging your insecurities is a sign of vulnerability. At its core, the essence of humility and vulnerability is about courage: the courage to admit that as a leader, you make mistakes and are constantly learning, like everyone else.

When we have established genuine relationships with our team members, showing our vulnerability comes naturally because of that relationship and mutual care for one another. Building humility and vulnerability in ourselves is critical to leading a thriving team, but it takes time and courage. Here are six ways you can build up situational humility and vulnerability:

Six ways to build up humility and vulnerability as leaders:

  1. Normalize making mistakes. We all make mistakes—it’s unavoidable. Good leaders understand this and do not penalize their team for making an honest mistake at work. Choosing to view mistakes as learning opportunities instills confidence in your team and encourages them to take healthy risks.
  2. Embrace learning. When we are open to learning new things and taking active steps in doing so, we show our team members that personal development is something worth doing. As leaders, embracing learning means admitting you do not know everything, and that requires courage.
  3. Lead by example. Leaders are role models, and the way we behave around our team members matters. Whether we are being confident or showing humility, the way we lead speaks more to our team than our words. Intelligent leaders recognize this and actively lead in ways that encourage their teams to do the same.
  4. Act with compassion. Leaders who act with compassion show their team members that they genuinely care about them. Being compassionate towards your team is key to leading with a human-centred approach. When leaders show compassion and understanding, they build up psychological safety in the workplace.
  5. Demonstrate empathy. Empathetic leaders listen actively and strive to understand the concerns of their team members. Being empathetic allows employees to feel valued, cared for, and understood. When leaders demonstrate empathy, they are building strong interpersonal relationships.
  6. Communicate effectively. Clear and effective communication is essential for leaders who want to enhance psychological safety in the workplace because it minimizes miscommunications, confusion, and uncertainties when it comes to work-related tasks.

When we strive to lead with humility and vulnerability, we are leading through a human-centred approach. At Humanicity, it is our goal to help you create a workplace where your employees thrive.