The case for vulnerability in the workplace

Ambition. Perseverance. Hard work. Intelligence. Open any business or management book and you'll find these words. What about asking for help? What about admitting where you aren't as strong? Owning up to mistakes? Admitting when you are overwhelmed? Not so much … but they're just as important.

I recently showed Dr. Brene Brown's TED talk on vulnerability at a companywide meeting to show the importance of vulnerability. Here's why:

Vulnerability & humility

Not many people want to work for a know-it-all. Instead, they want to work with managers who communicate when they need help with something, who look to their peer group for advice, who readily admit when they don't know the answer, and are constantly learning and growing.

Those are the employees that will help move a company forward. They'll be the ones to build strong relationships, read up on their industry, learn from mistakes. They are vulnerable. They open up and let their guard down. It's not easy to admit when you don't know something at work, or for a leader to say they aren't sure, but it's crucial. If leaders are humble, it will trickle down to the rest of the organization.

Humble employees understand they can never know everything and there is value to be learned from co-workers, mangers, and companies outside of their own.

Vulnerability builds trust

Vulnerability removes pride so you can admit to a mistake without it bruising your ego. It allows leaders to be human and admit they were wrong. They're being real … and that builds relationships and trust with their direct reports.

Whether it's a vendor or a co-worker, wouldn't you trust them more if they said, "I'm sorry, I will fix it"? That's what vulnerability leads to. Customers want to work with people they trust, and employees want to work for a manager they trust.

The ability to empathize with another person, be honest, be real, comes from being vulnerable. That's what trust is built on.

Vulnerability fosters a culture of learning and development. Admitting when you've made a mistake is hard as a leader.

It's also powerful. Acknowledging your weaknesses is hard too, but when leaders do this and talk about the steps they will take to get better or learn about a topic they aren't comfortable with, they send a signal to the rest of the organization.

They empower staff to continuously push themselves to grow and develop. They show that learning doesn't stop when you reach a certain level. It all starts with opening up and vocalizing your shortcomings. It starts with vulnerability.

Try being truly vulnerable and see what it does for your employees, co-workers or your organization. Share bad news, failures, mistakes and listen to others without judgment. Then learn and move on. In the words of Dr. Brene Brown, "There is no innovation or creativity without failure. Period."

• Tom Gimbel, is founder and CEO of the LaSalle Network.

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