Remember 80's power suits? (Wow, I'm really dating myself here.)
Double-breasted, bold-colored and equipped with MASSIVE shoulder pads, these corporate fashion staples were synonymous with wealth and success.
If you're too young to appreciate the reference, power suits were designed to put women on a more equal footing with men in the business arena. Big shoulder pads created the illusion of broader, less sloping shoulders, supposedly giving females the extra confidence and presence needed to compete in the still largely male-dominated world of work.
Since then, glass ceilings have been smashed. Though not yet in numbers equal to their male counterparts, women now populate the ranks of self-made billionaires, entrepreneurs and global business leaders.
But while women have (thankfully) abandoned their power "suits of armor" in favor of more feminine corporate fashions (White House | Black Market is my go-to), they've been much more hesitant to remove their "psychological armor" in the corporate world.
Women are often afraid to be vulnerable leaders.
And I get it. As a female professional, it's risky to expose your weak spots. Vulnerability in business is typically associated with characteristics like weakness, indecisiveness and helplessness - the antithesis of what a great leader should be. And entrepreneurial endeavors are, by definition, already risky. Showing your proverbial underbelly only leaves you feeling even more exposed.
So it's no wonder that, for most female entrepreneurs, vulnerability has become a bit of a four-letter word. But in my opinion, sometimes you need to use a few expletives to get the job done.
Ditch the damn armor and expose yourself.
While it may sound counterintuitive, vulnerability actually makes you a better leader:
It's a sign of honesty. Showing vulnerability is an undeniably frightening proposition, especially for a woman in today's business world. It means that there's a chance you'll get hurt financially, psychologically or even emotionally. But the truth? Vulnerability is absolutely unavoidable. It's a universal part of the human condition, which means that nobody - no matter how brave a front they put up - is immune.
You can't avoid it, so why not use your vulnerability to your advantage as a leader?
Acknowledging and truly "owning" your weaknesses is an authentic management approach that truly resonates with employees. It makes you more accessible. Approachable. Real. And at the end of the day, it's way easier than maintaining a façade of invincibility (which your employees can see through anyway).
It's humanizing. People do business with people. No revelation there, I know, but it's important to remember that each of shows up to work as a whole person - bringing a range of ideas, emotions and insecurities which can drive or undermine the organization's overall success.
Being occasionally vulnerable breaks down barriers between you and your staff, helping you leverage the human side of business. By showing that you're also human (and, yes, fallible), you can:
• create a culture in which employees feel it's safe to share
• cultivate stronger personal connections with employees
• increase engagement, loyalty, and both individual and team performance
It sets the stage for joint problem-solving. Admitting that you don't have all the answers doesn't mean you're ignorant; it means you value your team's insights. And occasionally asking employees for help isn't a sign of weakness; it's a way to lift them up. By showing employees that you need them, you:
• implicitly acknowledge their skills
• build deeper trust and mutual respect
• foster greater innovation and creativity
• develop better solutions to problems, faster
Lead like a woman.
In the past few years, a new paradigm has emerged which has made it not just acceptable, but essential for all leaders (male and female) to be more vulnerable.
So if you're looking for ways to become a more successful entrepreneur, resist the pressure to "work like a man." Get comfortable in your own skin, expose yourself and use vulnerability to your advantage.
It's a lot more comfortable than a power suit, and trust me - it'll look great on you.