After my last post on the study that shows that leadership self-confidence succeeds better when it’s lowered, one reader reacted strongly. Maybe others did too, but didn’t speak up through the comments section.
Let’s talk more about this issue of leadership self-confidence and executive presence. The real issue is vulnerability, for example, when you show up as not having all the answers. In business, however, this is often interpreted as a sign of weakness. Like blood in the water, the sharks pounce in with a testosterone fueled game of one-up-man-ship. (And this is not limited to just men!)
What is it about our competitive natures that sparks us to drive home our point of view at all costs, instead of recognizing the opportunity for open discussion of ideas? Why can’t we ask more questions of others, and really listen to their answers? Why do we use conversations to show how much we know and how clever we are?
Why can’t we risk the possibility of feeling vulnerable by admitting we don’t know for certainty that we’re right? I don’t think it’s entirely a gender issue, but women do seem to speak more easily with phrases like “I could be wrong on this, but it seems to me that…” Many of my colleagues start with phrases like, “Let me be clear about this, I know for certain that…” or “I’ve researched this thoroughly and my 40 years of experience tells me there’s no question that…”
I’m not saying that we need to be wishy-washy or touchy-feely or whatever other cynical expression comes to mind. I’m just saying we could afford to dial it down a notch when it comes to arguments. I think it’s because we want to squelch any internal feelings of uncertainty or lack of self-confidence so that we come across to others as strong and self-assured. And our efforts to do so sometimes have several of unintended results:
- We rarely convince everybody
- We come across as “protesting too loudly”
- We experience the twangs of inner “cognitive dissonance” because we go too far
- We mostly impress others as inauthentic blow-hards
Wanting to know more about vulnerability and how we deal with it at work, I came across this video from Brené Brown on TED.com. It’s worth spending 20 minutes, as Dr. Brown manages to make the vulnerability topic entertaining. Watch the video, and let me know what you think.
I know it’s got me thinking about this a lot, and how scary/risky it is to show our vulnerability in the business arena. What do you think?