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Leadership Humility and Vulnerability

The topic of humility and being vulnerable keeps coming up in my life recently. But what does it mean to be a humble or vulnerable leader though?

Gordon B Hinckley says that Being humble means recognizing that we are not on this earth to see how important we can become but to see how much of a difference we can make in the lives of others.

As a leader, you might be hearing about the need to change from management to leadership. Maybe your organization is going through some sort of transformation where they've gotten an engagement survey which shows that there are some things that we need to get better.

I have definitely been a person who struggled with being humble and being vulnerable throughout my life I've always been a fairly competitive person. Starting at a very early age of four or five years old I always wanted to be in that church performance, which I did. By 8 years old I was singing in front of a crowd of 700 people and winning competitions. Fast forward to the age of 30, I was a director at a Fortune 100 company, where I led a team of 40 people across different professions. We had almost an entirely new leadership team including a new VP. I'd gotten some feedback from human resources that they felt like I was too close or too cozy with the people who were reporting to me and I needed to change. I took that feedback and I dramatically changed the way that I was interacting with my team however I didn't clearly communicate to them why it was happening. It backfired more than a little bit but thankfully my managers respected me and cared about me. Two of them came to me and talked about the way that I had changed as their leader and the way that I was being perceived as the leader of the organization. They said, “Kim we know that you always have an open-door policy and we know that you're always asking for feedback AND now we need to give you some feedback.” I felt a little threatened. We have a model in the Agile Leadership Journey which comes from David Rock. It is called SCARF – Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. We and had a very good discussion. Partially because we could relate to each other, I knew they were being fair, I knew they were not attacking my status. At the end of that conversation, I knew that I needed to be able to have a more open relationship and to tell them about some of the reasons why I was being pulled in different directions. I needed to make it visible to my team. I needed them to know that I heard their feedback and I was listening. I wanted to help them get better.

As a leader, the first thing that you need to do is to make yourself vulnerable. You need to reflect and understand what is it that you actually need to change. You could do a 360-degree feedback or use an engagement survey, hold focus groups, or gather insights from leadership books like Marshall Goldsmith's “What got you here won't get you there” or Liz Wiseman's book of “Multipliers,” After you have a list of items, I ask you to have a conversation with the people on your team and ask what are the things that you could do in order to get better. What are the things that they feel are holding you back?

The second thing is to identify the trigger that's causing that particular behavior or that lets you know about an emotion. For me, I know I am getting triggered or reacting to a threat when my chest starts to feel warm my face turns bright red. Everyone in the organization knows that I'm getting a little bit flustered. If there is something that you can’t see, ask a partner, someone who is courageous enough to point it out as you appear to be getting triggered.

That could be very small like maybe they'll pull their ear to get your attention. This tells you, you are doing that thing that we agreed that you are trying to stop.

Or as you build vulnerability, it could be much more blatant. It could be that in your organization you have a signal that says “Tops down” you're being too command and control and you're not really helping the teams to come up with new ideas. It could be that you identify a list of actions that as a leadership team you want to stop doing and people are allowed to throw football penalty flags at you to show that you've are doing something you have said you are trying to stop. I would encourage you to think about how you can be as open as possible with the people in your team in your organization. Even if that means including them in companywide communication platforms such as Yammer or Slack to be able to say hey we're human and we're trying to change too.

The third thing is to figure out what can you replace the behavior that you're trying to improve so when I feel my chest getting hot my face getting red, I will pause and breathe. This might sound a little Zen like, but getting oxygen to your brain is an important way to stop the flight or fight response in your brain. It actually helps me with getting my emotions under control and understand what's happening in the room, not what my brain is making up. If your improvement area is speaking too much and not giving the team an opportunity to speak , instead of me speaking, write down what you want to say, wait a couple of minutes and see if someone else brings up the thought. You will be encouraged to see how many of those things you get to cross out because the people on your team are raising the specific concerns that you wanted to address. This improves their commitment to results because they were more instrumental in coming up with the solution.

If you want to learn more about how to switch from management to leadership or how to be a better coach or a better leader, reach out to meon LinkedIn or you can email me at kim@anteloagility.

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