How to Show Confidence and Vulnerability at the Same Time

Posted 05.23.2023

Leaders need to be confident! Leaders should show vulnerability! Yes, and yes. In a LinkedIn poll I conducted this week, 100% of the respondents at the time I wrote this post said it’s possible to exhibit confidence and vulnerability at the same time.  So, how do you do it?

I think it depends on what your confidence is based on. If it’s the force of your personality that you’re relying on, the sizzle more than the steak so to speak, it’s probably impossible to show both confidence and vulnerability in a way that feels authentic to yourself and others.

If, on the other hand, your confidence is based on your experience, your knowledge, and a clear sense of the value you have to offer, it’s possible to be both confident and vulnerable at the same time.

Here are six ways that I’ve seen some of the best executive leaders I work with do both:

Share your evidence-based point of view: Having the confidence to express a clear point of view is a huge value-add in problem-solving and decision-making conversations. It takes confidence to share yours. When it’s based on some combination of an objective reading of the data, relevant past experience, and a well-informed read of where things are headed, you have every reason to be confident in sharing your point of view. It influences other people’s thinking because it helps them frame the problem or opportunity for themselves.

Know what you have to offer and offer it: Confident people understand what they have to offer that can add value. It could be a point of view (see above), a skill set, a key relationship, a talent, a capacity to listen or something else. Raise your awareness of what you have to offer by making a list.  Sometimes, we get so comfortable with doing what we’re good at, that we assume that everyone can do the same thing and overlook what we have to offer. Make a list.

Acknowledge you don’t have all the answers: There’s no such thing as perfect knowledge. Even with all that experience and insight, there are lots of things you don’t know. It’s also possible you could be wrong in this instance. Acknowledge that and create space for others to share what they know.

Acknowledge your fears: Acknowledging your fears as a leader is one of those “You may need to go there but you don’t want to live there,” situations. By being vulnerable enough to acknowledge your fears or what could go wrong, you clarify the stakes for your team. At the same time, you want to be sure to pivot to the confidence that the team can handle what’s coming next.  As a leader, you have a two-part job: define reality, and offer hope.

Ask for help: Leaders who hit the sweet spot between confidence and vulnerability ask for help. By doing so, they express their reliance on others and appeal to most people’s strong urge to help others when asked.

Own your mistakes: Nobody’s perfect and everybody makes mistakes. When you make yours, own them. Most of the time everyone already knows you’ve messed up, so go ahead and acknowledge it. Say you’re sorry. Share what you’ve learned from the experience. Make it clear what you’re going to do differently going forward and then do it.

The irony is that everything on the list above, including the moves that show vulnerability, take confidence to execute. So, maybe the question isn’t can confidence and vulnerability go together? Maybe the question is how can one exist without the other?

What did I miss? What have you learned about hitting the sweet spot between confidence and vulnerability? Share your lessons learned in a comment on LinkedIn or, if you’re reading this through my email newsletter, send me a note.

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