“I worry how my teammates interpret my vulnerability.”

Two weeks ago, I spoke with managers at Goodwill about the principles of Better Work

A man said, “I appreciate vulnerability, I appreciate being able to say, ‘I don’t know’ when I don’t know. But I worry how my teammates interpret my vulnerability. I worry they won’t trust my leadership if I’m honest about all the things I have left to learn.”

I wanted to hug the man. This is an important concern. How can we be genuine in our leadership without losing the faith of our teammates? I’m curious to hear your thoughts. In my experience, two things go a long way here:

  1. Define what leadership really looks like
  2. Bring certainty to uncertain moments

Defining what leadership really looks like

Many people overestimate leadership, equating it with some kind of perfection. They think leaders dominate life, have the answer, and know the way—all the time.

If any of your teammates believe this, for their sake and yours, it is important to clear things up. Get everyone together to discuss and define leadership—what it actually looks like, and what it doesn’t.

Here’s what I tell my teammates:

The myth that leaders know the answer is just that—a myth. When we keep our work to ourselves, believing we should know what to do to make this project or that initiative a success, we set ourselves up for duds. Each of us, no matter our rank or role, has a limited vantage point. We can’t see all the angles. We need one another’s support and perspective. 

The truth is, leaders learn the answer. The difference here is one word, but that one word sparks wildly different behaviors. Leaders who believe they should know the answer will keep things to themselves when they encounter important questions or challenges. They will look inward at the exact moment they should seek guidance. Leaders who believe they should learn the answer will default to asking for help and feedback. Their interactions with others will help them see more perspectives and possibilities so they can make more informed decisions.

Bringing certainty to uncertain moments

It’s hard to believe a leader who is always certain. It’s hard to follow a leader who is always uncertain. A vulnerable leader is a bit of both, often at the same time.

In one breath, the vulnerable leader says, “I am uncertain how we’re going to do it, but I am certain we will find a way.” Or, “I’m not sure what’s next, but I have complete faith in our ability to figure it out.”

These statements acknowledge reality: the path forward is unclear. But rather than discouraging or scaring people, they motivate them. These are calls to camaraderie. They say, “To make this happen, I need your help,” which is exactly what great teammates want to hear. They are hungry to be in the mix, near the fire, helping where it matters most.

In other words, it’s not all or nothing. You can be honest about what you don’t know and inspire people to step up and think bigger. Great teams love these moments. Vulnerable leaders make them possible.

Thanks for reading. I would love to know your thoughts.


This is Max’s note—an every-so-often message from Lessonly’s CEO about learning, leadership, and Better Work. Sign up below to subscribe via email. No spam, we promise!

To see it, be it
Limiting factors