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How does Vulnerability Show Up in Innovation Leadership? 5 Things to Try...




Since Brené Brown’s legendary Ted Talk in 2012 and her follow up ‘Call to Courage’ Netflix Special, vulnerability has been widely heralded as the key leadership trait. It’s now widely accepted that better leaders demonstrate vulnerability.


Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome - Brené Brown


There is nowhere this is more impactful than when leading innovation teams. But in reality, what does this actually mean? How does vulnerability actually show up in leadership? Here are some things to try…


1.Say I don’t know and ask for help – LOUDLY

Think back, when is the last time you heard a senior executive say, ”I don’t know” As a leader, it’s extremely liberating to be released from the position of expert and to reposition yourself for discovery and exploration. As you set the tone, this allows your innovation team to really embrace their curiosity and to unleash their creativity as they seek the problem worth solving and uncover new solutions for the customer. I’ll often get asked what I think the ‘answer’ is when developing new products. Earlier in my career this would really freak me out and I would struggle and make up an answer. Now I’m much more confident about saying ‘I don’t know’, but I do know how to run an amazing process which will get us to the right answer.


2.Be proud of your failures and show your workings

We all know that innovation teams need to fail fast but in reality for many, failure is just not culturally acceptable. In corporate organisations reward and incentive schemes are not based on failures and only celebrate success. I was once asked by one organisation to remove the word ‘failure’ from my slide deck as it was viewed as too negative and only talk about learnings! So as innovation leaders be proud of your failures and own your mistakes. This inspires your team to push harder and make their own mistakes; this really is where the learning happens. I experienced this in my career when launching a new Innovation Team, the CEO walked in and told us straight that he expected us to make mistakes .. big ones .. and if we didn’t we simply weren’t trying hard enough. It felt empowering and intoxicating.


Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change Brené Brown TED2012


3.Leave your ego at the door and bring your beginners mindset

High performing innovation teams are cognitively diverse and usually contain a mixture of players who operate at different levels in the organisation. For example, when working on an energy project recently we had team members from the call centre team as well as the Sales Director. I like to think if you had dropped into our project calls you wouldn’t have been able to tell which was which. An environment of psychological safety was established really early on by ensuring everybody’s view was sought and heard. A beginners’ mindset can be a useful tool here where we try and let go of what we think we know and assumptions we have made. This sends a clear message to our team that we are open to new possibilities.


4.Bring your whole self

Another way to demonstrate vulnerability in leadership is to bring you’re your whole self to the sessions and move beyond your work veneer. I love it when senior leaders share stories about their badly behaved teenagers, car troubles and their hopes and fears for a project. By opening up they promote engagement, drive productivity and generally improve well-being. It takes courage to be yourself at work particularly if you have spent years trying to be someone else. By being your true self, you also give others licence to open up.


5.Actively Seek Feedback

I’m not sure anybody actually likes getting feedback. I know I don’t but I do like getting better at what I do so I ask for feedback a lot. By asking for feedback as a leader you are demonstrating vulnerability by saying I am not the finished article, I am still work in progress and your view is important to me.


So what did you really think about this blog then ?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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