Vulnerability: A Leader’s Greatest Strength
We typically think it is important for leaders to show strength and decisiveness, however, it may be equally important for them to show their vulnerability. In my last post I explained how vulnerability is essential for connecting with others. Being open and authentic can help leaders build trusting relationships that inspire the best in people.
George Washington’s vulnerability helped him to defuse a potential military coup, the Newburgh Conspiracy, during the American Revolution. The army, complaining that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had neglected them, leaving the soldiers underpaid, underfed, underequipped, and poorly clothed, threatened a coup d’etat.
On March 15, 1783 General Washington met with hundreds of his officer to read a letter written by a member of Congress promising to address their grievances. He opened the letter and gazed at it for a while, then finally pulled out a pair of reading glasses and said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”
They say that many of his soldiers were brought to tears by this humble act, which showed his vulnerability. They were reminded of his humanity and became emotional thinking of all he had personally sacrificed for the Revolution. Major Samuel Shaw wrote in his journal, “There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.” The meeting ended calmly with no more threat of a mutiny.
Leaders who reveal their shortcomings build trust and respect. When they admit their failures and are open about their limitations people can relate to them. Authenticity creates a connection that boosts engagement and lifts performance.
It takes courage to be vulnerable, to let down your defenses and acknowledge your weaknesses and mistakes. Vulnerability may, in fact, be a leader’s greatest strength.