1 Sep 2023  •  Blog  •  5min read

Vulnerability -it’s a strength not a weakness

Dental Business Coach, Mark Topley, puts the case for vulnerability as a tool of good leadership.

What do I mean by vulnerability? People can often equate vulnerability with being weak. In the past there has been a mistaken belief that leadership is about being right all the time and always having the answers. Leaders have traditionally been reluctant to show any signs of vulnerability for fear it would undermine their position. However, that’s just not the case.

Vulnerability has nothing to do with weakness. It’s about acknowledging to your team that we are all human and that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Pretending to have all the answers and never to have made a mistake sets up a toxic culture where colleagues are frightened to ask for help or admit to a slip up. Fear can stifle creativity and innovation. By nurturing a culture where people are unafraid to ask for help or to admit to their errors, you encourage the free flow of ideas.

Aspire to excellence but be realistic

There are some who may mistake this for a licence to perform badly. But that’s not the case. As a team you still aspire to excellence while at the same time accepting that everybody needs to ask for help sometimes. Although being vulnerable is not something comfortable for many leaders, those who can overcome their discomfort and appreciate it as part of creating a culture where team members still strive for excellence but appreciate things won’t always go to plan, will reap the benefits.

Having a culture that is open to learning is crucial to the success of a business. When new starters or existing colleagues are learning something new, it’s essential to give them permission to ask for help. It’s unrealistic to expect them to get things right straight away so it’s important to make sure they know they’re in a safe environment and they’re not going to get their heads bitten off if they trip up.

An atmosphere where a newbie gets shut down if they ask for help will get the message that it’s not OK in this company to admit you don’t know something. However, if colleagues are helpful and sympathetic to those who are learning, it gives them permission to be honest and open about their need for assistance so they feel able to ask for help or clarification. Too often people feel they have to put on a front of having all the answers and being on top of everything. Sadly, that means a lot of their attention and energy becomes focussed on covering their backs rather than being creative and collaborative. That’s a very damaging atmosphere for people to work in.

In a nutshell it’s about saying to people, “We all make mistakes, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. However, it’s essential to learn from your mistakes. Be honest about them and don’t try to cover them up.”

The benefits of a positive culture

As I mentioned earlier, if you want your team’s energy to be engaged in creativity, delivering a really good standard of care, constantly improving, engaging with patients and engaging with the rest of the team in a positive way, then you need to build a culture where the focus is on that and not on self-protection or indulging in blame. Blame and insecurity are two of the things that will hold back you or your team the most.

By creating this positive culture you’re saying as a team, “we’re striving for excellence but it’s okay for us to ask for help and we understand that we’re going to make mistakes, but we will improve”. And it’s a kinder way of doing things as well. Kindness often gets a bad rap because people think, “We’re not here to be kind. We’re here to make profit.” Yes, a profit is a result of what you do. But ‘kind’ doesn’t mean ‘soft’. It means that we treat people how they would want to be treated in order to get the best from them. To help them to move on and to develop.

However, what we know is that when you are kind to people and when you balance that kindness with authority, where you say, ‘I’m going to be kind to you, but we have a standard and this is what we’re working to. And there are limits.’ The knock on of that is that the business becomes more effective. Which benefits everyone.

About Mark

Mark Topley is committed to fostering work environments that inspire and energise. He is the driving force behind the Great Boss Academy, which focuses on holistic leadership development, creating resilient leaders who can not only withstand tough times but thrive in them.

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