Everyone has the capacity to be a leader, and the authority for this power is inside everyone.
Once you buy into the premise that each of us can be a leader, the next step is to give yourself permission to tap into that power — which isn’t always so easy to do. First, you need to overcome the self-limiting belief that you do not have the authority. Put another way, you do not have to wait for the boss to give you direction or grant you permission. Instead, believe you are the boss of you and only you can control when you access your power to lead.
What Is a Leader?
A leader inspires others by serving as a role model, sometimes going first and other times listening from behind. A leader innovates either through fresh ideas or by courageously starting the process of opening up by showing vulnerability. A leader does not have to manage a team, or run a company, or be the boss. A leader emerges from the group because of their influence on others in the way they shape the team by expressing the power of their truth and insight.
Anyone can be the first one to offer an idea or raise a contrary view. Anyone can question the boss. Anyone can be the person who reads the energy in the room and brings clarity to the team that is going down the wrong track. Anyone can volunteer to show how they can be comfortable being uncomfortable and act as a role model for others.
When you take the risk to show up with all that you have, you are breaking the ice for others to do the same. You’re giving everyone else permission to bring everything that they have to the situation. Your stepping in becomes the catalyst to bring the entire group to a new level.
Why is that?
Chaos Is Critical to Trust
The first person to find the courage to step in with all that they have takes a risk. When you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and dive in with your truth, then everyone else is pushed out of their comfort zones, too. They have to respond more openly and transparently.
This is what we call “chaos.” Chaos is simply when we leave a comfortable place for an uncomfortable place. There may be tension in the room. A hard truth may be spoken. It may be that the elephant in the room has now been named. These situations are uncomfortable.
Chaos is critically important to every person and group. It’s a crucial ingredient in building trust. Think about it: If you never go through the fire together, then you never learn that the team can face tremendous challenges and come out stronger because of it.
On the other side of the chaos is a more deeply connected, trusting, and authentic community of leaders — a community that formed because you took the risk to show up differently. That leads us to an important leadership tenet: Vulnerability is the gateway to unleashing all of your power.
Vulnerability Is Leadership
The idea may be seem counterintuitive, but the fact is that vulnerability is leadership within a team. When you are in place where it feels safe to be vulnerable, and you show up with your truth, you are bringing your power to the team. That gives others on the team permission to do the same thing.
This is different from the old-school belief that leaders have all the answers, are bulletproof, and have no feelings. According to this belief, leaders are robots in perfect control all the time.
Although there may be times when it is important to lead by inspiring and motivating others, when you are with your team, you can just be you. Sometimes you will be in a place of confidence, and other times you will be anxious, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, confused, or sad. That is what the team is there for: to help pick you up when you need it, and for you to pick up others when they are challenged.
Our client Eloise climbed the corporate ladder of success to become a divisional COO of a paper manufacturing company by believing that she had to be the smartest person in the room with all of the answers for her team. However, in her new role, she often did not have the perfect solutions to challenges. When we worked with her, she was struggling with how to reconcile tension between her sales and marketing chiefs.
She gave us permission to facilitate a team meeting. We opened with a question for everyone to answer: “Share with the team a time when you were stuck and didn’t know what to do. How did you ultimately overcome the block?”
We arranged for Eloise to go last. We watched her observe her team. Each person shared stories of their struggles, of how difficult it was for them to admit when they didn’t know what to do, of how reluctant they were to seek out and accept the help they needed.
This depth of sharing paved the way for Eloise to show the courage of her vulnerability. She shared how she was taught as a young girl to be the best and the smartest, to fix things without having to ask for help. Elosie’s revelation broke the barrier for her team to open up and offer their support. Both the sales and marketing chiefs were eager to help, and they ultimately worked out their differences as a result of Eloise showing that she was human.
Leadership within a team environment means being vulnerable and asking for help and support. It means sharing with and challenging others in open, healthy debate. When you are willing to take the risk and make yourself vulnerable, the team will draw upon your example. Then, the entire team, through its vulnerability, will unleash the power that comes from authenticity.
Adapted from The Power of Vulnerability: How to Create a Team of Leaders by Shifting INward (Greenleaf Book Group Press) by Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester. Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.
Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester are the authors of The Power of Vulnerability. As partners at Shift 180, they coach business leaders and their teams to unlock their full potential.