Leaders: it's time to embrace your imperfections

This is a challenging time for businesses. The number of business closures in the UK last quarter was 137,210 – 23% more than the same period in 2021 and higher than any quarter since 2017.

Rising costs, the need to maintain competitiveness in the digital age, workplace flexibility expectations and talent shortages are all contributing to businesses falling by the wayside. This is causing organisations to enhance their resilience. For some, the answer is closer to home than they would care to admit.

Resilience and leadership:

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To steer teams through challenging and uncertain times, leaders are increasingly seeing the benefits of recognising personal shortcomings and demonstrating empathy and compassion.

A survey from Catalyst of over 12,000 global employees found that staff members are much more willing to go the extra mile when they feel that their manager is open and shows vulnerability.

In business, leaders have traditionally been taught to maintain a professional demeanour, to be cool and objective, but this approach lacks authenticity and can make it difficult to lead a team effectively in a dynamic and complex environment where solutions are co-created. It is time for a change.

To connect with people, leaders have to be seen. Successful leaders are those that are willing to give something of themselves across and to do so vulnerably. Being vulnerable is crucial as it enables the organisation from within, empowering the team to become more innovative and creative in solving business problems.

However, being vulnerable remains a major challenge for some leaders. When I was in the military, we gave our teammates complete trust, as our lives depended on them.

In the corporate space, trust is nice but often optional, which changes how some managers approach learning how to use it.

Many leaders find it difficult to show a perceived weakness and admit that they are unable to solve a problem on their own. It is often the case that leaders think that they must project an image of being all-knowing and all-seeing.

However, only by letting their guard down will they be able to build a meaningful connection with their team and garner authenticity. It is time for leaders to understand that admitting they do not know the answers to everything is not a weakness – it is a strength.

Leaders must have the courage to be imperfect. Vulnerable leadership is a crucial pillar in solving the complex issues affecting businesses today. Issues that need iterative answers and the ability to flex and change, tying into the principles of adaptive leadership.

Yet, there is a balance to be had. It is important to draw the team’s expertise and experience out without losing authority. Techniques such as gaming can create the space and lexicon for leaders to begin to operate differently.

The importance of vulnerability to business survival should not be underestimated. It is time to move towards a collaborative way of working rather than a hierarchical one.

Vulnerability is the heartbeat of creativity and innovation today and is proven to significantly impact positively on the bottom line. 

The very best leaders today are those that can go against convention. By opening up to staff, recognising personal flaws and asking for help when needed, they create an environment for others to thrive.


Chris Paton is managing director at Quirk Solutions