For most of us, the most significant critic we have lies within us. It can damage the opportunities we have to be our best and realise our potential. It steals up on us in the most unexpected moments and hauls us back from the greatness within.
As a leader, you are not immune from this, nor should you be. A leadership role is so often isolated by its very nature, and there the demons can fester. As with all human nature, the slight slips of judgement; the decisions that didn't quite work and the moments of indecision can play upon frayed and tested nerves.
The good news is that this is all good. If the world went perfectly every day, that surely would be a challenge, not least of boredom! The perfect face leaders show up with can so often be faked for effect, leading to the mistrust of those you lead. For they are a human just like you. Your people suffer from the same internal question marks, however robust and confident you see them. So, by being open and honest with them, you begin to build relationships and a safe, developmental place for all.
As a leader, you expect to be at the forefront, giving your best 'Braveheart' impression. While no-one respects a snivelling whiner for a leader, you will find that your people engage with you much more when you show up with at least some of the fears and doubts that they have themselves.
For when you show up as imperfect and seek their support, you draw on the human emotion of empathy, which is a mighty beast. Seeking help from others in your team nags on that greatest of human emotions, the need we have within us to help others. When you encourage others to help you, they feel valued and needed. When you show a vulnerability and seek the support of others, relationships strengthen, for you are showing up as one of the tribe. Not in a tribe of your own, perfect and untouchable.
By choosing to be vulnerable in situations where your people can offer support, you can manage how much you share with them, retaining their respect for you as their leader, as well as gaining their support for you as a person.
There are some simple tactics you can adopt that will help you model such behaviour.
When you need help, you demonstrate vulnerability and realism. You engage with your people by showing them that you value them and that they can contribute to the bigger picture of the team through the skills and capabilities they have. When you accept the help that is offered, you show them that they can contribute to your challenges too.
Here's how. And it is easy.
Ask For Help
By asking for help, in circumstances where you are challenged, and in a respectful and authentic way, the vast majority of your people will be prepared to give it. They will honour you for your honesty; your appreciation of what they can offer. They will acknowledge you for your being real and experiencing the same doubts and fears that they do.
The best language to use is this: -
"I need your help."
Yes, it is that simple! And then when they offer, you have to be prepared to accept.
Done well, they will respect you as their leader even more.
So - Say 'Yes'!
The old way of thinking is to soldier on when we are the leader, even if we are in trouble. No leader should ever believe that they can cope with everything alone. When help is offered, the temptation (not just in the workplace), is to say, 'No thank you, I can manage.' We all do this.
Saying 'yes' is much more valuable.
In the most obvious way, you get the help you need. You may be struggling with something, and when one of your team offers support, your natural reaction will be to decline it. For when does a real leader need help?
Take the offer and accept the help.
On the other side of the equation, there are other benefits too. You show you value the other person offering the help, which adds to their confidence and feeling valued. You model that you accept support, which makes them more likely to with their people too, expanding the relationships they have. You develop their skills in ways in which they might not have been exposed to in the past.
By showing some vulnerabilities and being a typical human being, you create an environment of all-togetherness, rather than you and them. You build collaborative relationships which will add value to the team performance. This is much more valuable than being on that pedestal as an untouchable, perfect leader.
That fools no-one.