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STRATEGY

PATRICK WOODMAN

Embracing vulnerability boosts credibility

There’s a human inside every manager Patrick Woodman is head of research and advocacy at the Chartered Management Institute

As a leader, how do you think of yourself? confidence. Handled right, credibility can How do you want others to see you? be enhanced by admitting to not knowing. Confident. Dynamic. Transformational. Admitting vulnerability and fallibility is Strategic? All of those, perhaps. Where does another human quality that sits outside the ‘human’ fit in the list? traditional leadership handbook. Yet one Being human has often been seen as recent report highlighted the lack of trust the precise opposite of what’s expected middle managers feel in their senior leaders of managers and leaders. We’re seen as due to a perceived lack of transparency. rational decision-makers, allocators What do middle managers want? They of resource. As shapers and executors want leaders to share what they’re of strategy. As providers of vision and thinking – and to admit to mistakes. For direction. But rarely as fully human, with too many, though, that admission of all the frailty, fallibility and emotional failure and vulnerability remains a deeply baggage – and wonderful creative potential uncomfortable prospect. – that brings. It’s vital that leaders de-stigmatize Happily, that has started to change. One failure: both to help people be more of my favourite books of resilient and to ensure the last few years, and that fear of failure CMI’s Management Book doesn’t stifle innovation. Being human has of the Year in 2015, was It’s also crucial for our often been seen as Not Knowing by Diana wellbeing. If we can’t the opposite of what’s Renner and Steven admit vulnerability, expected of leaders D’Souza. (Their followwe’re stacking up the up, Not Doing, appeared pressure on ourselves. earlier this year.) It’s a mentality that Framed as the way to turn uncertainty represses problems and buries them deep. into opportunity, it made the vital point Managers and leaders can be particularly that not knowing all the answers isn’t only vulnerable: elevated to a position of okay – it’s positively inevitable. Better to responsibility, they can face significant come to terms with that fact, be prepared pressure. Middle managers can feel caught to admit it, and to understand how to between the demands of their teams and get answers where they’re available – or the expectations of those leading the how to make decisions where answers organization, while senior leaders are just are impossible. Without that approach, as prone to burnout and mental health managers will be trapped by an challenges as anyone. endless hunt for robust data and Yet mental health is still often second conclusive insights. best to physical health-and-safety when In an ever-more data-rich world, being it comes to employer action. In the UK, a prepared to say “we don’t know” is an campaign for employers to appoint mental important principle for business agility, and health first-aiders alongside physical one leaders would do well to learn early. first-aiders – which are required by law – is Of course, some leaders will say gathering pace. It’s surely something that that their credibility hinges on being any employer serious about mental health the person who knows – who has a plan should look at – to make sure that those and the answers to others’ questions. suffering can access help quickly. Saying you don’t know can be distinctly No manager should be shamed for uncomfortable. But pretending to know admitting their limits. It’s time to let that is bluster, and is corrosive of trust and humanity shine through. Q4 2018 Dialogue

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Dialogue Q4, 2018  

The footloose world

Dialogue Q4, 2018  

The footloose world