Case Study: Using Vulnerability as a Leader

      Carter is a senior level manager in a national organization. Since the pandemic began, he has been forced to manage from a distance, no longer travelling across the country to various work sites, connecting with his team face to face.

      Over the past year his leader has noticed an increased sense of frustration and impatience when Carter is leading meetings and trying to hold people accountable.

      Since Carter is a key member of the executive team, Carter’s manager reached out to seek an executive coach to support him.

      During Carter’s first coaching session he was presented with some 360° feedback that was very unflattering and frankly shocked Carter.

      His direct reports, who are all mid-level managers, painted a picture of a controlling, micro-manager who lacked empathy. There were even hints of some bullying and aggressive behaviour.

      “I know I am struggling with this new way of working,” he shared, “however I did not realize the extreme impact it was having on my team.”

      “But it is so frustrating,” he continued quickly. “The team seems to have become more and more dependent on me to make decisions, which is taking up so much time. I am constantly in video meetings, which I don’t like in the first place...

      Added to that, I feel like I need to be on top of my managers all the time to make sure things get done. I feel like they have lost their initiative and are happy to defer everything to me. And when problems arise no one wants to take ownership.”

      “Sounds like a lot has changed in the past year for you, and it has had a big impact,” I empathized.

      I'm ready to dive deeper!

      There was silence for a few moments.

      “Well, it has changed for everyone,” he rushed on, “but for some people it doesn’t seem to have phased them. I don’t know how they do it.”

      Then he added, “It makes me feel so inadequate that I can’t seem to figure this leading virtually thing out. And now the team is needier, less autonomous, and they seem quite happy to throw problems back to me...

      I can’t even get much interaction in meetings anymore. It seems I’m just coming down on people for things not being done and then handing out more orders to get them to take responsibility.”

      “Have you talked about this as a team?” I asked.

      More silence.

      “It has felt like I am the only one struggling and I’m supposed to be their leader. I didn’t want them to feel like I didn’t know what I was doing,” he shared.

      “Based on the feedback you have now received do you think they have been struggling too?” I asked.

      “I guess I have been so busy being frustrated with them I was completely unaware how frustrated they are with me,” he said quietly.

      We entered into a big discussion on vulnerability and how it humanizes leaders. When leaders can show their vulnerability, it gives others permission to be vulnerable too.

      Psychological safety is key to creating high performing teams. And for people to feel safe they need to feel like they can be themselves, through the good times and the not-so-great times.

      They need to feel free to make mistakes without fear of someone coming down on them. They need to feel like their leader has confidence in them.

      Over the next few sessions, we broke down a few key areas for Carter to begin focusing on to shift the dynamic and help him show up differently:

      •  How does Carter want to show up as a leader? What would he like his direct reports saying about his leadership in 6 months?

      •  How can he show his vulnerability, share his struggles with the team and offer them a platform to share theirs?

      • Who does he need to ask for help from and who needs his help?

      • How are his own actions contributing to his team’s dependency on him?

      • What tactics can he work on with the team to create new ‘rules of engagement’ to give power back to his team?

      • How can he create a safe learning environment when things go awry?

      When is the last time you showed vulnerability with your team?

      If you polled your direct reports, would they say your leadership style has changed over the past year?

      What can you do to reconnect with the leader you want to be?

      What are you doing to create psychological safety in your workplace?

       

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