Like so many small business leaders, I found myself thrust almost accidentally into leadership. My business Lucky Voice was founded almost exclusively around my initial efforts, and then as the workforce grew, it fell to me by default to ‘lead’ it. Whatever that meant. And without consciously considering the question, I fell into the trap, no doubt like countless others, of thinking that being the leader meant coming up with all the answers all the time and then telling everyone what to do.
So how did that work out? In truth, not terribly well, on the basis that once the boss has pronounced judgement on something, others are significantly less likely to air their views. Moreover, it trickled down into people being fearful in general of doing anything that didn’t have my stamp of approval, which in turn completely stifled their own creativity and self-expression. I wasn't doing the big shouty grumpy boss stuff (how do those kind of bosses manage to hold on to any of their workforce?), but there was enough of a simmering undercurrent to put people off making a decision for themselves. And so I got what I’d created - a totally bottlenecked business with limited creativity.
To constrain the output of an entire workforce with the viewpoint of any one person within it is patently absurd (someone’s bound to be thinking “what about Steve Jobs?” and I’m going to swerve that by saying that, for reasons I have not yet fathomed, he may be a once-in-a-generation exception!). As this kind of constrained business grows, you continue to add more do-ers who operate within the necessarily limited sphere of one person’s thinking. But what if you could unleash the combined thinking power of all those people? How would you even begin to do that as a leader?
The answer is very simple - vulnerability.
Vulnerability doesn’t mean being weak and submissive and walking around the office with misty eyes. It simply means having the courage to be your true authentic self in the workplace, with all the imperfections and uncertainty (and even risk) that may arise from that. It means being comfortable with not having all the answers and making genuine space for others to express ideas and opinions that might even be better than yours.
“Vulnerability is not weakness… Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” - Brene Brown
When I took this on a couple of years ago, it had a truly transformative effect on both the business and my experience of it. For me, there was a huge sense of release as I shook off the burden of the work persona I had unwittingly adopted and gave myself permission simply to be myself. How much easier that proved to be, how much lighter, how much more fun.
Key to this was acknowledging to myself that my opinion is just that - one opinion out of many possible opinions. And the reality is (shock horror) that I don’t know everything and some of my opinions are rubbish and/or out of touch. These days I’m generally quite reluctant to even express my opinion in the office, conscious as I am that it might be irrelevant and it will definitely be given more weight by my team than it deserves.
And the prize really has been huge. My workload has decreased (feeling like you have to make every decision can really fill a guy’s calendar!), the performance of the company has increased (it turns out people are much more motivated when they’re contributing to their own destiny), and the office has become a much nicer place for everyone to be. And what of my continuing value to the business? Well, that’s based on what I enable and encourage, rather than what I pronounce or dictate, and consequently it’s greater than ever.