The Age of Vulnerable Leadership

The age of Iron Ladies is officially over. A commentary about vulnerable leadership by Vindou Duc, Consultant at her consulting agency The Nextep.

The age of Iron Ladies is officially over. Today’s female world leaders are a far cry from Margaret Thatcher. They are compassionate, collaborative, humble and empathetic – and they’re doing an exceptional job. We’ve seen them crushing it in these Covid-stricken times and we applaud them: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s calm response to lockdown; Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg on tele­vision to allay her country’s children’s fears; Mette Frederiksen, her Danish counterpart, addressing children in a press conference; Angel Merkel’s forthright yet compassionate handling of the situation; Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen’s swiftest response to the pandemic.

Why is this? The answer lies in the word “vulnerability.” Once, any connotations of vulnerability were deemed negative, detrimental, and at worst, symptomatic of ineptitude. Today, all that has changed, thanks, in part, to the landmark work of Brené Brown, who insists, “vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” This then is a great strength and is what authentic leadership is all about.

Vindou Duc
...did her Master’s degree in Business Administration at The Open University. Her 25-year career experience has included leadership positions at the food company General Mills. Since 2018 she works as Consultant at her consulting agency The Nextep.

Lynda Heffernan, behaviourist and exe­cutive NLP Coach, explains that “vulnerability implies a growth mindset – it encourages us to be innovative, challenging the norm. An authentic leader will admit that he/she does not know it all and will surround him/herself with experts who do,” she says. While dictionary definitions claim that admitting vulnerability means admitting weakness, exposing oneself to attack, Gill Whitty-Collins, author of “Why Men Win at Work” sees it differently: “The huge benefit of showing your vulnerability is the authenticity of it.“ Acceptance of vulnerability is linked to societal norms and structures. Sooni Shroff-Gander, editor-in-chief of the Happy Ali digital newspaper for positive global news says: “As women, we have been taught to hide our weaknesses, to deny vulnerability and to cloak it in a veneer of pseudo-confidence in an attempt to conceal our softer side. We live under the expectation of perceived perfectionism.”

Yet, as our female world leaders have shown, with vulnerability comes greater resilience: It is about acknowled­ging it to make you stronger. Can we then assume that successful female leaders have the freedom to be authentic, unconstrained by traditional approaches, as they have had to overcome other gender-specific challenges? Perhaps. Because the benefit of being authentic and vulnerable is that we will stop pretending to be someone else just to fit in. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable gives us mental breathing space. Importantly, this brings to the fore a new style of effective leadership composed of three foundational skills: Vulnerability: that comes with the power of choice to take risks and expose oneself despite uncertain outcomes. Trust: to have the integrity to be worthy of trust and to trust others; and Resilience: to come back even when you fail. We can only hope that this new style of leadership witnessed during the current crisis will alter the definition of strong leadership, allowing us to perceive vulnerability as an advantage rather than as a liability.

Gastkommentar: Vindou Duc

Der Gastkommentar ist in unserer September-Ausgabe 2020 „Women“ erschienen.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

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