April 26, 2021 | Stefanie Bishop, Head of People, Hi Marley

The Brave New Skills Every Business Leader Needs

I was in our weekly leadership team meeting when something unexpected happened. During the discussion, one of my colleagues paused and shared that he was frustrated with himself about something he felt he could have done better. In that moment, the entire conversation shifted. Suddenly, there was this safe space to be unguarded, humble and curious. Others opened up, softened and let their guard down.

One person’s vulnerability sparked something special among the whole team. I was so appreciative of that moment and what it created for everyone in the meeting. It also made me realize that as leaders, we can and should create more space for the flourishing of humility and vulnerability for others. This would encourage participation from all corners of the organization. The end result is people who are more engaged and valued, and a business where openly sharing ideas feeds into better decisions.

Humility and Vulnerability are not Widely Prioritized in Business

Let’s face it, humility and vulnerability are not attributes highly prized in today’s culture and certainly not in most corporate settings. We’ve been taught that you’ve got to be the smartest or strongest person in the room. We put on emotional armor to protect ourselves from looking weak or feeling pain. It’s hard, in that environment, to be humble and admit that we may not know something or need help or feel nervous. But humility goes hand-in-hand with vulnerability. We need it to develop greater trust with each other, create more opportunities for connection and ultimately, make the company successful.

Humility in Leadership Trickles Down the Organization

It’s especially hard to show vulnerability when you’re less experienced, on the quieter side or the only person that looks like you in the conversation. And then there’s the pandemic. Virtual group meetings have a dynamic of their own that make it even harder to be humble when we are moving quickly, want to prove ourselves and maybe don’t have the same level of trust because we can’t see each other or aren’t feeling our best.

But when leaders open up, admit they don’t know every answer and are willing to be vulnerable, they create a safe environment for others to follow suit. As the only woman in that check-in meeting, I appreciated it. It gave me more freedom to be myself. It made me realize how powerful it can be if we can continue to do this for each other. What if we all approached our conversations with humility and moved away from a culture of knowing the most and being right, to learning more and doing the right thing?

Modeling Humility Creates Trust

With the increase in remote working, communication patterns are changing as well, reports the BCG Henderson Institute. When everyone was in the office, leaders managed through a succession of meetings where many participants were passive, often having little to no contact with employees a level or two below. But this has changed dramatically. In an effort to stay focused on essential business decisions, managers report having more one-on-one, short video meetings, often with staff who don’t directly report to them. They’re learning a lot more about their people. “I’ve seen so many people rise to the occasion and exercise genuine leadership,” one executive told the BCG researchers, “that I’m embarrassed I had never spotted them before.”

Even with the difficulty of managing remote workers, leaders have an opportunity here. In a one-on-one situation it’s easier to show vulnerability than in a meeting with a dozen colleagues. Use these interactions as an opportunity to model humility and create that higher level of trust.

Self- awareness is a Strong Starting Point 

Perhaps the first step is awareness of your own emotions. You don’t have to share every feeling (!) but understanding them is useful information. That awareness can lead to finding the appropriate moment to share an insight with an employee or colleague. The result is learning more and managing better. When people feel comfortable – not always wearing their armor – they will share more, ask more questions, collaborate more easily and seek out support to do their job better.

“Courage is contagious. A critical mass of brave leaders is the foundation of an intentionally courageous culture. Every time we are brave with our lives, we make the people around us a little braver and our organizations bolder and stronger.”
– Brené Brown

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