“Not everything is we need is at the forefront in every place or era. It is when we find points of connection to the foreign that we are able to grow.” Alain de Botton
Bombastic, macho, blustery, overconfident. It’s not hard to find “leaders” who enthusiastically embrace these characteristics, masking whatever honest thoughts and emotions lie beneath their carefully manicured and thickly armored surface. An alternative title for this essay could be “Avoiding Overconfidence.” Among the outdated, unenlightened leadership qualities that we are committed to unwinding and replacing, overconfidence is close to the top of the list.
We’ve all worked in organizations, played on teams and lived in communities where individuals who exhibit the greatest confidence in their abilities and their decisions are rewarded with authority roles and vaulted into leadership positions. Sometimes, these individuals recognize the perils in clinging to false confidence and surround themselves with a team of competent associates and advisors who are relied upon. Other times, they double down on the overconfident façade, rejecting openness to advice as a symptom of weakness and learning opportunities as necessary only for the stupid.
In his research on the evolving design of corporate structures, Frederic Laloux found that many western organizations fostered this form of leadership through their design and their cultures:
"Organizations have always been places that encourage people to show up with a narrow 'professional' self and to check other parts of the self at the door. They often require us to show a masculine resolve, to display determination and strength, and to hide doubts and vulnerability. Rationality rules as king, while the emotional, intuitive, and spiritual parts of ourselves often feel unwelcome, out of place."
But Laloux also found that as a handful of incredible organizations have evolved to more closely resemble the increasingly enlightened modern professional, displaying vulnerability is no longer a leadership no-no. In these evolved, enlightened organizations, “colleagues are exposed repeatedly every week to a space made safe by ground rules that invite them to truly be themselves. They learn to see each other in the light of their deep humanity, in the beauty of their strengths and vulnerability.” The leaders who embrace vulnerability are those who are capable of extraordinary growth.
In these organizations, vulnerability isn’t a quality that’s expected only of the more junior team members who follow their more senior, ever-confident leaders. Vulnerability starts at the top:
"CEOs that role-model virtues such as humility, trust, courage, candor, vulnerability, and authenticity invite colleagues to take the same risks … vulnerability and strength are not in opposition, but polarities that reinforce each other."
If you’re committed to exhibiting true, modern leadership - captaining challenging initiatives and inspiring others to action - you will have to learn how to be vulnerable to unlock your true leadership potential.