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Leadership vulnerability: striking a balance

Last month, the CEO of HyperSocial in the USA posted a selfie on LinkedIn.  The photo showed him crying and was accompanied by a post where he talked about staff redundancies and that laying people off was personally “the toughest thing I've ever had to do.” 

If you missed it, take a look: .

While his intention to show vulnerability may have been genuine, there was worldwide backlash against him and the post.  He went a step too far, that is for sure.

You may have noticed, as I have, that this area of authentic leadership and vulnerability is a trend that’s caught on around the globe, and right here in New Zealand too.  When done well, being an authentic and vulnerable leader can engender staff and customer loyalty, build trust and create an amazing sense of team.

When done poorly?  Well, you become an overnight viral sensation.  Let’s not do that!

So, what did the HyperSocial CEO get wrong?  Well, number one: he laid off staff who are now jobless, but his message was primarily about himself and the hurt he was personally going through.

The truth is that when you become a leader, people expect you to make tough decisions.  That means you will make decisions that don’t win you popularity contests.  You will make decisions that cause you personal anxiety, even turmoil and could even see you crying in the toilet on a bad day. 

But when staff, customers or your community are bearing the negative repercussions of your decisions, those people do not care that the decision was a tough one for you to make.  Therefore, it is inappropriate to turn the spotlight back on yourself. 

That is not to say every leader should not strive to be more authentic and vulnerable.  But how do you do this in the right way?  Here are several things to consider:

Put others first

Exercise your Emotional Quotient (EQ).  Authentic leadership should always be in tune with others around you, their frame of mind and the wider environmental context.  Remember, it’s not all about you!

Trust building is key

Before you share something personal, ask yourself, “Will doing this build trust in my leadership, my team, my company?”  You can’t lead well without being trusted, so ensure this is a key part of the purpose of your communication.

Don’t erode your authority

Ensure your words and actions do not erode your authority.  People need a leader who is confident and has influence.  Sometimes over-sharing in the wrong situation can undermine your license to lead.

Question your purpose

If you are thinking about making a move that will show your authentic self, why are you wanting to do this?  Ask yourself if this is all about you and making yourself look or feel better.  Or will your words and actions add value and be helpful to the person or people on the other end?

Transparency shouldn’t lead to oversharing

A word that is incredibly overused today is transparency.  Being transparent in terms of being honest, is important.  There’s no argument there.  But being transparent does not mean that you need to be an entirely open book.  There are things we just don’t want to know about our leaders.  Keep it that way.

As a leader, think about putting together your personal communications strategy.  Think about the actions you need to take to build your reputation and relationships.  When you are intentional and working to a communications action plan, you will greatly minimise your chances of getting it wrong.