Want to be successful? Try being vulnerable.

Courtesy: Phil Coffman / Unsplash.com

In business (and, for many, in any type of relationship), it can be easy to feel a temptation to filter elements of who we are in an attempt to control or manage to some kind of outcome. Whether it’s with a new colleague or acquaintance, or even among those we interact with daily, this reaction can seem innate.

Perhaps it’s because everyone wants to be liked. Or, maybe it’s because we watch other successful people with strong, protected natures. Maybe the urge to hold cards close to our chest feels as though it creates a strategic advantage of some kind—or, perhaps it’s caused by something far more primal.

Regardless, according to one (very successful) business leader, it can be poison to your success.

If you follow small businesses, you’ve likely heard the name Marcus Lemonis. In addition to being CEO of Camping World, Good Sam Enterprises and Gander Mountain, he is one of the most prolific and publicly respected small business investors/owners in America, an incredibly emotional intelligent leader, and is one of the most influential role models for me because of how he sees, values and treats people as he aggressively achieves business success.

You get the picture. My fandom aside, the proof is in the pudding. When it comes to leadership and success, he’s someone who it won’t hurt to listen to.

I got the opportunity to hear him speak at the Global Leadership Summit. While I’ve long been a fan of his show on CNBC, The Profit, his vulnerability about his own personal life, experiences and difficult past during the session was surprising. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that the topic of his session was the very real impact that vulnerability can have on success—particularly when working with and investing in your relationships with others.

Business Is About Vulnerability

During his talk, Marcus made a statement that resonated:

Success is based on your ability to be vulnerable. When you can unlock somebody’s heart and earn their trust, you can navigate anything together. — Marcus Lemonis

It’s impactful for a very specific reason: He’s not saying it’s simply a factor. It’s not just a “nice-to-have.” It’s the basis.

Marcus is referring to a humility that allows genuine vulnerability—not some facade that creates a false or skeptical hope, and certainly not passive meekness. He’s talking about proactively taking the risk of putting your truest self out there for the case of being aggressively invested in others.

As leaders at any level of an organization, most (if not all) of those around you look to you for the culture norms and the tone. Despite what is said, what is actually encouraged and discouraged in practice? What is rewarded? By being our authentic selves—honest about our strengths, values, priorities, incentives, goals and yes, even fears—it begins to create a small space for vulnerability to exist. It exists as a model to others that vulnerability and authenticity will not just be tolerated but will be encouraged and supported.

It’s in this place of honesty (and the freedom for all to be authentic) where our priorities and value (and those of the people around us) become far more clear. As that grows, success has room to breathe.

Practicing Vulnerability

Business is not a game of dodgeball, where every individual is for themselves.

If that’s how you play, you’ll quickly find yourself on an island of one (and it’s critical to protect those you’re invested in from those who take this approach).

There’s simply only so much one individual can do on our own. Business is a true team sport. It must be. The best teams are those that don’t just operate well together due to a poster on the wall, outlining a set of rules or goals. Truly successful teams are those who genuinely trust and understand each other. These teams understand the strengths, the growth areas and the vulnerabilities of the others.

When vulnerabilities are at play, a unique dynamic is webbed between individuals, not dissimilar to friendship or even love. If you think about the people that you support, love, want to succeed…heck, even those you just kind of like, it’s the people that you have some level of a mutual vulnerability with. You’re invested in them because despite the differences between you, you know them and can trust them. Through this, you can understand their perspective, what they value, and where they’re trying to go.

It’s refreshingly simple, but can feel hard.

Be a relentlessly supportive advocate for the people you work with every day. Start by being vulnerable enough to show your true self. Take a moment to pause during what feels like the never-ending list of tasks, expectations and commits, and work to invest in those alongside you. It will create the space for trusted relationships to grow, and your business will be better for it.

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