Originally published in 30 Seconds blog.
A company’s workers look to their leaders for answers, but sometimes those in charge are reluctant to take off their superhero mask and reveal they don’t have those answers. Instead, they’re full of questions about themselves. All humans are vulnerable, but many bosses try to hide it, fearing it indicates weakness. Leadership expert and author Sue Hawkes says this is an example of “imposter syndrome,” a term coined by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes to describe high-achieving individuals with a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Instead of hiding their vulnerability, Hawkes says, leaders can become more effective by admitting their limitations and learning to ask for help. “Most leaders are phenomenally competent at so many things, yet admitting they’re struggling is tough because they don’t want to be judged or pop the perceived bubble of perfection,” says Hawkes, author of “Chasing Perfection: Shatter the Illusion; Minimize Self-Doubt & Maximize Success.”
“Learning to express vulnerability, ask for help, and receive it gracefully are key skills for any leader’s success.” Hawkes suggests three ways leaders can show their vulnerability and become better leaders in the process:
- Confront self-doubt, confide in peers. Self-honesty and humility are key elements in unlocking the vulnerability. “Research shows 70 to 80 percent of leaders experience imposter syndrome,” Hawkes says. “When we think there’s no one who can possibly relate to all we’re challenged with, we can find other leaders facing similar challenges and with whom we feel comfortable to talk about it.”
- Share your mistakes with those who report to you. Leaders preach accountability. When they admit their own mistakes and need for help with some of the people who report to them, it makes them more authentic in the workplace, and in turn can increase respect and trust from employees, which makes a stronger company and, by extension, a stronger leader. “Leaders recognizing their choices contributed to a problem is the ultimate acceptance of accountability,” Hawkes says. “They can increase their support by showing this vulnerability that puts them on the same human level. You’re able to accomplish even more as a company because you’ve made them part of the solution.”
- Accept help graciously. Once a leader discards pride as an obstacle to asking for help, he or she is helping those around them on an emotional level as well. For one, this opens the door for others to feel comfortable expressing their worries and needs. “It creates permission for everyone to be vulnerable and tell the truth as well,” Hawkes says. “And when you won’t accept help graciously, you’re actually denying others the good feelings they would otherwise enjoy.”
“You’ll never know how much others care about you until you take off your mask and let yourself be seen as you are, vulnerabilities, failings and all,” Hawkes says. “Perhaps having the courage to take off your mask is what makes you a superhero after all.”