How much the leader can show his weakness? This question quite often arises during discussions about leadership. Some people suggest approaching other people with an open heart and say that this is a feature of a strong leader.
Anyhow, this question has two sides and different situations might have different solutions.
For example, manufacturing and construction organizations. Will the construction manager find a way to communicate with a group of people who came from third-world countries to work for a few months? Of course, you might talk about shared leadership, but I am sure that the work will not be done on time and during work hours the manager will have to collect empty bottles of vodka.
Another possible example – a highly competitive environment within the corporation or in your professional community. If you as the leader demonstrate your weakness (share your worries, problems at work, conflicts with employees) then it can easily turn back against you. By the way, in this kind of environment, an artificial kindness can be seen. Here everybody might talk with sweet voices, be extra kind.
So where is this desired security and openness? Is it so that most of the time achievements are shown externally meanwhile failures and painful experiences are hidden and people silently suffering?
Mostly we can see several images of idealized leadership. One way is when we share works, completely trust each other, and have close relations. This is an example of shared leadership.
Another way is inspiring, strong, transforming leader who shows the way. I walk together and learn a lot. There is no full exchange in such a relationship or the exchange is peculiar – the leader creates a vision, shows the direction, brings the knowledge and I get intellectual and emotional stimulation and benefit from good results, but I give my time and energy – I am in the role of executor. The relationship is vertical and there is no communication on the spiritual level.
Whether we want it or not, leadership is a power game.
Imagine that female prime minister during the interview would mention “sometimes in the evenings I cry out of despair or I feel sad because I feel lonely” (loneliness is a companion of many leaders). What titles in the newspapers can we expect after such sharing? I have no doubt that opponents would comment that „opposition leader suggested tissues to clean her tears“ or in some meeting somebody would tell that she is not suitable for this position. Gender is not that important. In the USA we hear the term „fit“– suitable (for this role): Donald Trump and Joe Biden are fit psychologically, but, according to the opponents, Hillary Clinton was not „fit“ physically.
We can see warm interviews in media – this is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of human qualities in order to awaken empathy in followers‘ brains: „this person is like me“.
If the leader would share his weaknesses in a small circle of his followers, for example, „I am so tired“, „I need your help“, „I feel desperate“, then maybe people would suggest help hand and would react with compassion. It might be accepted as a sign that we can also be weak – get tired, feel disappointed, and feel anxious.
However, more often leaders show cognitive „weakness“ – “I doubt, I do not know” and emotional openness remains taboo. It is important to understand vulnerability but not to demonstrate it. It is important to not confuse pseudo sincerity (emotional or verbal silence) with authenticity.
So, how about the idea to approach everybody with an open, naked heart? It is strong but is it wise?
Dr. Alisa Miniotaitė is a management and leadership expert, founder of UAB ALISA MANAGEMENT LABORATORY, ISM University of Management and Economics, Leadership Program Manager