Real Leaders Are Vulnerable

Who do you think are the best leaders? Those with superhuman powers or those with a bit of human touch? I guess it depends. In the time of crisis you want a superhero at your side so you feel safe and you trust things will get better. However, we don’t live in a constant crisis and most of the time you want a leader who is more approachable, who is more human, who is more like you.


In my life I worked with couple of guys who would fit this category. They had some sort of superhuman ability, being an incredibly good linguists or software developers. They shared two common traits. First one was an incredible ability to focus on the stuff they were good at. This ability magnified their already great talent to the new heights. Second aspect of their personalities was rather low patience with people who were not able to keep up with them. Unfortunately, these traits made it for them also a bit too difficult to lead. In fact, they were not even interested in becoming leaders that people would follow at all. They saw their professional mission as being the experts in their given fields and cared little of what the others around them think. You want to have people like this around you in the times of emergencies but if you want to lead others you cannot really have an attitude like this yourself. If you are trying to be the best at everything, chances are that your team will feel that there is very little they can bring to the table, and eventually it will demotivate them. You need to make sure you give others opportunity to contribute and they need to feel valued and be proud on bringing something no one else brings.


Show emotions. Pretty much any emotion is better than no emotion at all but obviously some are more preferable. Which ones? The positive ones. Being able to open up and visibly enjoy the successes of your team. Being able to laugh with your team or cry when life brings a tragedy in your way makes you human. Human being like to be around other human beings. If you are a robot who never shows any emotions you won’t be able to empathize with your team members and you won’t be able to create a good rapport.

People also tend to look with distrust at someone who is unreadable. If you never ever show any emotions you become a puzzle for your team. They will never be sure what you like or don’t like and whether something meets with your approval or not. Yes, you can try to vocalize every thought of yours but it would still look insincere if not accompanied by the appropriate show of emotions. As a leader you need to be consistent, predictable and authentic. Lack of emotions will bring the authenticity into question.


As a leader you need to be approachable and the best way to build approachability is to be vulnerable like everyone else. People won’t come to a superhero with their small unimportant human problems. It is different if they know that you are like them, that you deal with the same problems in your life as they do. To show a bit of vulnerability will make you easier to talk to and will build a stronger emotional bond with your team. Obviously, I’m not someone who believes you need to keep your team at arm’s length. I strongly believe that good performing teams need to have leaders who are part of the team, who experience the same ups and downs and who should have emotional stake in the success of the team. You just need to make sure that your relationship with your team doesn’t cloud your judgment in situations when unpopular decisions needs to be made. In fact, being emotionally close to the team will help you to give bad news and make unpopular decisions that will be accepted by the team more easily. Or to put it another way, it will make it more difficult for you to make the decision but much easier for the team to accept it.


The one vulnerability you cannot show is doubt. You are here to lead others, to marshal your forces, to give them a vision and goal to follow. No one will enthusiastically follow you if you keep saying things like “I’m not sure”, “I will try”, “I guess”. Be sure! Don’t try but do! Don’t guess but know! You need to project confidence that you know what you are doing. It is fine to show vulnerability as a person but you need to maintain a posture of a strong leader who knows what he or she is doing. And never mind that you are not sure. No one is! One thing I learned as I climbed the corporate ladder is the higher you get the more uncertainty you have to deal with. The ability to deal with ambiguity, being able to make tough decisions and still make others to follow you is called leadership.

Twitter type summary: “No one will eagerly follow a robot. If you lead others you need to show your human face and heartfelt convictions.”

Do you show vulnerability or do you rather hide it? Do you prefer to be seen as strong and infallible to lead your troops or do you prefer to show a human side of yourself?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Real Leaders Own Their Mistakes

We all make mistakes. Some are small, some are bigger and some impact other people’s lives. As a leader you will make your share of mistakes and it is completely fine as long as you learn from them. The thing that makes it more difficult for you is that your mistakes tend to be more visible and have bigger impacts. If you are a leader who is being followed or if you are an influencer impacting what people think and how things get done then you need to proactively own your own mistakes and deal with them immediately.


The first and the trickiest step is to recognize and admit that there was a mistake done or even better that there is a mistake in works. To be able to do that you just need to listen and frequently review what you are doing. Listening to the feedback also means creating environment where the feedback you are getting is really honest. If you are surrounded by yes-men then no amount of feedback from them helps as they are just saying what they believe you want to hear and not what they really think. For tips on creating a good open environment and getting feedback check these posts How Can You Motivate Others? You Can’t! and Now, How May I Help You?.


The most difficult step is to apologize. Apologize to yourself, to your colleague or to your team. Apologize to whoever was directly impacted and also to those who were impacted indirectly, saw the mistake being made or the consequences. Why it is important to apologize to all of them?

The ones who suffered because of the mistake are obvious. You need to admit to them that mistake was made, injustice happened and apologize that it happened. And really apologize. Statements like “it was unfortunate that you were not invited to the party but you know my boss wanted it and I don’t think he realized that you should be there” are not really an apology. The real apology starts with “I”, is short and to the point and shouldn’t involve blaming anyone else “I’m sorry for not inviting you to the party yesterday. I apologize for forgetting and I have taken steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”


The most obvious step is to fix the actual mistake. At least as much as it is possible. It doesn’t make too much sense to try to overanalyze or figuring out who to blame. The important part is to act and act fast. Don’t try to make promises, don’t try to talk the others into feeling happy, and just show them by doing. Quick action is what will make you believable and will help the others to accept that you really mean fixing the issue. You don’t need to immediately fix everything but you need to make the right first step and show that you have a realistic plan for the rest.


The last and not so obvious step is to prevent similar type of mistakes occurring again in the future. That is not for the benefit of others as much as for benefit of yourself. You want to make sure that you don’t need to firefight the same issue or mistake again. It is ok to make a mistake once but you shouldn’t keep making the same mistake again and again. When taking the steps to prevent the same issue from happening again and not just that. Try to cover a similar type of situations. Let’s say that the issue was a miscommunication between two departments working on a project you are leading. Obviously you will set up a measures to make sure this problem doesn’t appear on the project again. And you always need to think about how to ensure this doesn’t happen on other projects in the future and that other departments don’t run into the same issue.

Twitter type summary: “Did you make a mistake? Admit it, apologize for it, fix it and prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future.”

How do you deal with mistakes you made? How do you ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice?

Forget About Work-Life Balance, Just Live A Happy Integrated Life

It is being used in professional circles quite a bit. Talk about work-life balance, about the ways how not to sacrifice your personal life to your career goals and have a balanced life. Nothing against well-balanced life but what I would question is the inherent premise in the work-life balance theory: work means sacrifice and is not part of life. That just sounds really weird. You spend at work at least eight hours a day if not longer so how can you believe it is somehow not part of your life? And if it is really such a big sacrifice then why you do it? And please don’t tell me because you need money. Money are not the ultimate goal, they are just means to something else.


I must confess that I’m not someone who works nine to five. I spend considerable amount of time in the office and I love it. I also don’t feel that it has negative impact on my personal life. I have hobbies, travel the world, read tons of books, meet with friends or write this blog. And I do sleep seven to eight hours a day. And still some people would call me a workaholic only because I love my job, I like talking about it and I jump out of a bed every morning looking forward to yet another day in the office.


So if the work-life balance is not the thing to pursue then what else should you focus on? Well, the most obvious answer is the work-life integration. Why should you balance the great time with your family, your hobbies and great time at your work? And if you don’t have a great time at work isn’t it partially because you have a mindset that tells you that work is bad, home is good? Wouldn’t it be great if you could integrate these two and just have a great life regardless whether you are currently located at home or a company office?


It is about priorities


Wrong. It is a bit about priorities, but to be able to achieve the priorities of your life you need a good and stable base. If your life goal is raising a pair of beautiful kids or being a CEO of a big multinational company you just cannot get it done without regard of the rest of your life. What happens if you get fired from your job? What happens if your family breaks? Without a solid base and a well-integrated life you would get suicidal. If you look at your job as a sacrifice for your family how will you feel once for whatever reason you lose your family? You lost the thing you really care about and you are stuck with a job you hate. Not a good place to be in.


It is about mindset


Why not look at each aspect of your life as a necessary and helpful to support all the other parts? Why not to enjoy every aspect of your life to the fullest? I was told couple of times that I shouldn’t waste so much of my time in the office and rather go out and enjoy the life. I find that line of reasoning really peculiar. My time in the office is part of my life and I enjoy it immensely. I enjoy also being home with a good book. I enjoy great food in a nice restaurant. I enjoy talking with friends over a glass of beer, or bottle of coke in my case. I enjoy travelling the world and seeing new cultures and interesting places. And I enjoy playing with my little niece. I don’t see any of these as a waste of time. They all contribute to a happy and fulfilling life.


The key is being present


And yes, I realize I’m not offering any tips and tricks on how to have a well-integrated life. Since I believe it is about mindset and not some tricks or tools I cannot provide you with a plan how to get there. I can just point you in the direction of couple of posts that deal with happiness and positive mindset (Positive Approach To Life, Looking At The World Through The Eyes Of 5-years Old).


The only advice I give you is to always be present in whatever you do. If you are at work then be at work. Focus on the task at hand and don’t worry about anything else. If you sit on a meeting then focus on the topics discussed and ignore your email. If you are at home with your kids then give your complete attention to them and don’t check your blackberry every five minutes. It might be tempting to do many things in parallel in attempt to achieve more, but the only thing you will achieve is a state of constant worry and the constant feeling of missing out.


Life-balance wheel


If you really want a tool then you can look at this one used by some coaches (in fact I use it frequently when coaching new clients) called the life-balance wheel. Who knows why it is called this way. You can look at it as balance wheel or you can look at it as integration wheel. In any case, it can give you a nice framework to collect your thoughts on the topic, realize what the things important to you are, and what part of your life is not integrated well with the rest. If you are interested just check out my post on this topic Coaching Tools: Life Balance Wheel.


Twitter type summary: “Forget about having a great work-life balance! Better to focus on the task at hand and have a well-integrated life.”


What is your point of view? Do you have a great work-life balance or just a great life?

The Hidden Value of Toastmasters

Are you an introvert who suddenly found himself thrust into a foreign environment? Did you just moved to a new city or a new country? Do you generally have troubles meeting new people and have no friends around? If that is you then I suggest you look around for some leisure time or professional circles and organizations. One of them is Toastmasters International. With more than 292.000 members in more than 122 countries the Toastmasters clubs are virtually everywhere and their focus is on teaching and practicing communication and public speaking skills. Sounds like an organization born in expat heaven, doesn’t it?

I moved from Europe to the Philippines for a work assignment a year ago and since the beginning tried to figure out a way how to get involved in the local community to get to know people and make some friends. I was looking for like-minded individuals and realized that Toastmasters are the right community to join. So how can this organization help an introverted individual to meet people?

Toastmasters are open to new people

One of the goals every club has is to grow its membership base and ideally spin off new clubs. The organization is voluntary and run by volunteers and that usually mean some really enthusiastic people who love the club and love to see it growing. Part of each meeting is also welcoming of visitors and potential new members and guiding them through the meeting so they understand what’s going on.

Toastmasters appreciate diversity

This is a truly global organization. It always depends on the language spoken but you can be pretty sure that in every reasonably big city you will find a club that uses English as the spoken language. This creates a great environment for expats and that then leads to diversity from cultural point of view. You can find there members of all ages and occupational backgrounds. There is no exam to get in, and everyone who wants to learn is accepted and offered an opportunity to participate.

Toastmasters focus on communication

It is all about communication. That is the whole point of Toastmasters. The official mission of Toastmasters International is “We empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.” There are two educational tracks one focused on communication and public speaking and the other on leadership. Both of them obviously evolve around the ability to effectively communicate.

Toastmasters provide a friendly environment

The vision Ralph C. Smedley had when he started this organization in 1924 was to provide a training in public speaking skills in an environment that will appeal to young men (he worked at YMCA back then). Since then one of the key principles of every meeting is to learn something while enjoying the experience, and for some clubs even have lots of fun. Each club is of course unique and thus it is a good idea to hop around couple of clubs at the beginning to find one which atmosphere is close to your heart.

Toastmasters let you contribute at your own pace

No one pressures you to do anything. There are official manuals that guide your through your learning experience but it is completely up to you to decide how fast you want to go. The basic manual for public speaking, called Competent Communicator Manual, has ten projects (meaning ten prepared speeches you have to perform) and there are members who manage to finish it in half a year. There are also those who take several years to get through it or even decide to repeat it once completed. And then you have additional fifteen advanced manuals each with five projects. This gives you learning opportunities for a lifetime.

Toastmasters help you build self-confidence

The chance to practice speaking in front of a small group of people in friendly environment when the stakes are zero and you can fail without danger of someone laughing at you is the biggest gift this association can give you. It is a great way to gradually build self-confidence and if you participate regularly, take on some of the roles in the meetings you can be assured that your self-confidence on how to talk to others and in front of others will grow a meeting from meeting.

Toastmasters are fun

The impromptu speeches, also called table topics, is a way to learn how to speak without preparation and it is usually also lots of fun. Some clubs also meet after the official meetings for some socializing and this again helps in getting some friends and meeting people who like to talk to you.

Get it to the next level

And if you want to get things to the next level and you want to push yourself to meet people faster and to have a reason to talk to them? Get yourself nominated and elected as one of the club officers. I might be an introvert but I enjoy a good challenge when I see one and so I ended up very quickly being in a position of VP of Education in one of the Toastmasters club in metro Manila. This is an incredible role that is essentially responsible for running the day-to-day operation of the club. VP of Ed prepares and organizes the club meetings. This entails talking to members in between the meetings to get them plan their speech projects, motivate them to take various roles during the meetings and generally keep them on the Toastmasters educational path. In the day of the meeting VP of Ed oversees the organization of the meeting, meets with guests and potential future members and generally is the go-to-person for anything the club members need. It is a role that gives you a reason why to talk to people and they have a reason why to talk to you. It pushes you to communicate and helps you to find associates and friends.

Twitter type summary: “Toastmasters is a great organization to join if you want to meet people, make friends and improve your communication skills.”

Are you an introvert? How do you meet new people when coming to an unknown territory? And in case you are a Toastmaster what is your experience? If you want to read more on Toastmasters you can find some thoughts here and here.