When a leader is engaged in transformation, old ways of doing things become insupportable and start to break down. The leader begins searching for new ways of doing things. Models become important.
Followers can sometimes provide those models. A follower is no more a paragon of exemplary behavior than a leader, but we each have our strengths. The leader models behavior that we learn from all the time; we can do the same for the leader. The most germane behavior we can model to help a leader transform is our own openness to transformation. And our openness to transformation begins by being willing to show our vulnerabilities.
We are not prone to showing vulnerabilities around leaders, nor are they prone to doing so around us. We are selected or hired to be competent, to have or generate answers, to be part of the solution. Yet if we feel we can never appear uncertain or vulnerable, we are telling our leaders they cannot be vulnerable either. Openness sets the stage for leaders and followers to engage in a genuine change process. We need to learn and, by our example, teach that some degree of shared vulnerability is necessary for transformation.
How do we model openness to change?
We can initiate discussions of sensitive topics about ourselves.
We can model soliciting personal feedback by showing genuine interest in how others perceive us.
We can voice our fears and not duck the subject when others raise their fears.
We can talk about the negative impact our behavior has on others and how we are trying to remedy that.
We can talk about both our successes and our setbacks with our own transformation efforts.
Modeling vulnerability is a real test of courage. It’s risky. It can be turned on us. It can be overdone. But the alternative is stagnation behind rigid facades that we all work overtime to maintain.