Why Self-Awareness And Vulnerability Improve Leadership Skills

Amie Courtney, Human Resources Director, Cranberry Township.

People don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses. We have all heard that line before, but what does it truly mean and how should it guide employer practices?

With the continual change in today’s job market, employers must implement practices that support and develop good bosses to increase retention and ensure their employees are engaged. As a human resources professional, I know the necessity of good leaders in the work setting. However, my own experience of receiving an ADHD diagnosis in my early 40s allowed me to understand that the key to good leadership is self-awareness and a willingness to be vulnerable. In order to better understand how that is, I would like to provide a brief glimpse into my background.

As a woman growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, my zoning out, forgetfulness, ability to lose nearly anything and overall inability to complete any task until the last minute was either ignored, joked about or resulted in others believing I was lazy and unwilling to simply “try harder.” Therefore, my inner critic had a lifetime of believing I was not good enough because I could not complete simple tasks, no matter how hard I tried. It was not until my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and I began to work with her to help her understand her brain just works a little differently than others that I began to understand that same was true for me.

Although it will be a life-long process of learning and improvement, I have implemented structures and practices designed for how I work best. It was during this process that I began to understand how self-awareness and vulnerability are vital for good leaders.

The societal and workplace shifts around employee needs and expectations in recent years have resulted in employees rightfully increasing their expectations for their work environment. Supporting and developing self-aware and vulnerable leaders can allow employers to succeed in this evolving environment in the following ways:

1. Cultivating An Environment Of Acceptance And Support

By being open and honest about their own mental health, as well as personal struggles, strengths and weaknesses, a leader is demonstrating through their own actions that they are a safe place for their subordinates. This also demonstrates a supportive culture throughout the company. Employees who feel their mental health is supported tend to have higher job satisfaction, therefore increasing the likelihood of retaining that employee.

2. Improving Work Efficiency And Effectiveness

Self-aware leaders can be upfront about their strengths and weaknesses and communicate how those impact their own and other team members’ expectations. This transparency allows teams to learn how to work with their collective strengths and potential blind spots, improving their ability to deliver results.

For instance, as an individual with auditory processing deficits associated with my ADHD, I struggle with recalling information provided to me auditorily. Therefore, I have learned to request a follow-up email and explain why I am unlikely to remember information if it is only spoken to me. This ultimately allows me to address matters effectively, with minimal follow-up from both myself and my co-worker.

3. Decreasing Frustration Or Tension Caused By Unmet Expectations

When leaders increase their self-awareness and vulnerability, they understand their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to clearly communicate their expectations. When employees have clearly defined, well-communicated expectations, they are more likely to experience increased satisfaction and success in their work.

Good leaders are a vital component of employee engagement, retention and productivity. Employers must support and develop their leaders’ self-awareness and vulnerability to ensure long-term sustainability and growth in today’s evolving environment around employee expectations and workplace culture.


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