You may have heard the popular leadership phrase “only the strong can lead.” In American popular culture, whether it is business, education, or the service sector, this has been widely accepted and taken at face value as the only truth in which someone can be an effective leader. In the December 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article by Stanford University professor Emma Seppala, Ph.D., about Archana Patchirajan, owner and CEO of Hubbl, describes an approach very near and dear to my heart (https://hbr.org/2014/12/what-bosses-gain-by-being-vulnerable). In the article “What Bosses Gain By Being Vulnerable” (Seppala, 2014), Archana’s style of leadership, The Servant Leader, was highly praised. The article makes mention that the approach of allowing your employees to see a more vulnerable and “human” side to you as a boss can actually INCREASE employee loyalty, productivity, and the overall cohesiveness of the group being led. The startling statistic of “70% of employees are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’” showed that Archana’s approached, which proved to gain 100% loyalty of her employees to the then struggling company, was someone of an anomaly to what modern day business considers an unusual practice.
I, on the other hand, agree wholeheartedly with Archana’s approach despite frequent reminders by more seasoned colleagues that vulnerability is a weakness. There’s something to be said about being able to express honesty of one’s life and the desire to include others into all aspects of your life that makes me seem more human to employees. In Seppala’s article, she states that servant-leadership, one that emphasizes authenticity, and value-based leadership can yield more constructive and positive behavior – such as greater trust and hope in both the leader AND the organization. Further, Seppala states that qualities such as forgiveness should not be seen as tolerance, but rather as the leader recognizing a mistake and providing the employee an opportunity to learn from it and correct the action. Seppala further wrote that a stance of authenticity and vulnerability allows for the employee to see their boss as a human being, someone they can seek advice from, and can take a vested interest in the organization where they see their role in the hierarchy in a horizontal manner.
In The Last Prophet book series (now coming up on Book Four in 2015), we see the vulnerability of the main character, Sophia (the prophetess), as a servant-leader type individual. She is not forceful or preachy, but approaches each human soul where they are at spiritually, emotionally, intellectually,, and even physically. Such a reverence and respect for the “other” individual earns Sophia the type of admiration, respect, and trust of those she is helping. Personally, I admire and hope to emulate such leaders who, through their examples of strength coupled with vulnerability, make me want to follow them on my own. The battle is not won by brute force alone, someone once said, but rather by the strategy employed and the leadership behind it.
What is your take on servant-leaders? Are leaders who show vulnerability effective in their leadership? Or is the opposite true? Please comment in the space provided.
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