August 12, 2019

Leading a team? Here’s how to take off your mask

Rachel Hillman
Are you a leader trying to gain the trust of your team? Take off your work "mask" and embrace vulnerability. Read 3 ways to stay vulnerable in leadership.

If you’re in a leadership position, there have undoubtedly been times when, despite your best efforts, your team has seen you as inaccessible or intimidating.

Or maybe you can even be seen as intense or abrupt (I’m virtually raising my hand here).

Because those in leadership can seem unapproachable, vulnerability quickly becomes a major trust factor for your team.

I want people to understand that I’m available and empathetic. I want to be a safe place for my team and an open book for my clients.

Do you?

If you seek to connect with others, you need to connect to yourself first.

Here’s how I continue to embrace vulnerability as a leader.

Understand that vulnerability is bravery

Brené Brown—a leading researcher on shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy, and author of “The Gifts of Imperfection”—writes, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

As a leader in an organization, here’s what that looks like to me:

  • Sharing with your team what you’re personally working on. This means being open about not only your own shortcomings but also how you are actively improving yourself. This level of vulnerability shows that you aren’t “perfect.” You’re human.
  • Admitting your blind spots and stumbling blocks. It might feel good to always have the answers, but that’s not how you form true connections.
  • Welcoming feedback. Showing that you’re open to criticism makes you more approachable and teaches your team how to give better feedback.
  • Keep mistake-making part of the experience. The creative process cannot be experienced without room for mistakes.

Remember you’re not always the subject matter expert

As a creative agency, we believe that the client is the smartest person in the room when it comes to their business or industry. Saying things like, “Say more about that,” and, “Tell me why that is,” shows a form of vulnerability and willingness to learn more. Curiosity is a treetree value, and demonstrating it to your team and clients, despite the decades of experience you may be packing, sends the message that you’re here to help, not to prove how smart you are.

Raise your hand.

Ask the question.

Admit what you don’t know.

Bring your whole self to each interaction

What does it mean to be whole? You need to bring more than what’s on your business card to every meeting, whether it’s with clients, partners or your internal team.

Bringing your whole self means baring all those things that aren’t on your job description: forgiveness, curiosity, empathy.

We all carry a sliver of fear, something we’re processing or something working on. We bring that with us to everything. If we don’t recognize that about ourselves, believing we are above vulnerability (whether consciously or not), then we are harboring ego. And that can get ugly.

If we come to each interaction recognizing we are imperfect, and we are here simply to understand and be understood, we are being our whole selves. We’re able to take off our mask.

Be a lifelong student

In the spirit of continuous improvement, check out a handful of my favorite resources on leadership, vulnerability and relationships.

Rachel Hillman, Group Account Director of treetree, is in the business of smart work, successful relationships and smooth sailing. treetree is The Agency of Special Projects, located in Columbus, Ohio. Learn more