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Why Vulnerability Can Be Your Greatest Business Strength

Posted November 4th, 2019

Trying to be a great leader can be like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. You can’t force it to happen. For many people, the mere act of trying to be a great leader — whether among your family, friends, employees, or colleagues — results in exactly the opposite. Leading is done through your actions and being who you say you are!

It seems counterintuitive, especially in a stereotypically alpha industry like construction, but one key quality of being a leader is your ability to be vulnerable.

Benefits of Being Vulnerable

Why should you embrace vulnerability?

Being vulnerable signals to others you value their trust and feedback. Trying to always appear as the dominant person in the room doesn’t always get results. In short, being vulnerable means understanding the other person’s point of view before being understood. Taking the time to listen — really listen — to the other person before responding with your own thoughts, opinions or agenda is a great way to start introducing vulnerability in your leadership style. When a strong leader embraces vulnerability in their approach they focus on solving problems and helping others achieve shared goals.

Here’s how showing vulnerability often plays out:

Employees feel more comfortable bringing you questions, which means they can learn faster and minimize mistakes.

Employees, contractors, clients, and others feel safe and valued, which increases loyalty and trust.
Other people will begin opening up to you, which allows you an opportunity to better understand and help them in ways you wouldn’t have known about before.

This approach may be a bit different at first, but over time, you’ll find that it takes less energy to listen and you’ll get better results than a defensive approach. And the result of showing vulnerability consistently actually leads to greater confidence for you as the leader in the long run!

Vulnerability is the Key Ingredient for Confidence

Have you heard of a B.S. detector? Just about everyone has one. It goes off when things are too good to be true.

Someone who claims to be able to do anything and everything, who always agrees with you, and who always has the answers to everything is not vulnerable. They’re full of it. You KNOW just by the way they talk and carry themselves that there’s something they’re not telling you, or that they’re missing something important because they’re trying so hard to impress you. No one has all the answers, and at some point, you can bet that those falsehoods will come through.

When you’re being straightforward about your vulnerabilities you actually show more confidence, not less. You stop worrying about hiding what you don’t know and focus on highlighting what you do.

True Confidence Drives Sales

Consider this instance: You’re the owner of a construction company that is typically a 1st tier subcontractor to a General Contractor. It is your goal to attract and retain successful General Contractors that you want to work with. Here are two approaches during a meeting with one of these potential GCs. Which one might improve your reputation and lead to long-term success for the company?

Your primary focus is on the overall price and you say, “I’ll get the job done in half the time for way less money than those other guys!”

“Yes, our bid may be higher than our competitors, but I’ve taken into account X, Y and Z factors that others probably haven’t already accounted for, and this will ensure we stay on schedule and everything gets done right. How do I know? Because I’ve made those mistakes before and I’ve learned from them.”

The first approach is cocky and filled with empty promises. Even if awarded the job, the general contractor may approach each billing with a particularly critical eye — encouraging the project manager and billing department to be extra cautious before approving payments or accepting proposed change orders. In the long term, this approach is destined for failure, conflict, and no repeat business opportunities.

The second option is humble, vulnerable, and confident — all at the same time. Having a hard conversation that your competitors are too scared to have can show value to the General Contractor. It sends a clear message: This person is experienced and is going to tell the truth even if it means losing the bid.

The thing is, the most confident people are willing to talk about their mistakes. Because they’re not LIVING in them. They’ve learned from them, and they’re not afraid to talk about it. They’ve learned by being vulnerable.

In a sales scenario, those who display confidence and empathize with the customer normally close the deal. The salesperson listens carefully to what the customer wants or needs and then coaches and guides the potential client to an outcome that they can be happy with and the salesperson can deliver on.

A good rule of thumb: A customer doesn’t have to know everything about what the salesperson is talking about, they simply need to know that the SALESPERSON knows what they’re talking about. (Again, the key is honesty and trust.)

You don’t know everything about your industry, your customers, or your employees. Being straightforward about your experiences, struggles and accomplishments — and open to hearing about theirs — gives you a chance to provide them with true value, or adjust your product to better meet their needs.

Rarely will someone open up to you or fully trust you if you don’t first practice vulnerability.

Leadership and Vulnerability

Vulnerability and all the qualities that go along with it can make a huge difference for your life, both personally and professionally. Exhibiting vulnerability through honesty, active listening, and transparent communication makes you a better boss and leader. It fosters respect and loyalty. It builds trust and strong relationships with clients, vendors and other external partners you come into contact with.

And when something does go wrong and you own up to the problem, you’ll find that people believe you when you say you’re going to make it right.

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