The hardest presentation I have given to date in my career was introducing myself to my current team. It was only a 30-minute session with a small group live and the balance on a virtual team call. My new boss and predecessor were going to announce the organization changes. I would have 15 minutes for an introduction, then an open Q & A. I was sick to my stomach – literally ready to run out of the room. Working in this industry, I’ve had some rather important presentations & big audiences – customer negotiations, CEO pitches, national sales meetings, etc. – but those I’ve been preparing for my entire career. While I have introduced myself to new teams’ multiple times, this one was different. Not because of who the team was or the role I was assuming, but instead, what I was about to share. Now I’m sure you have all created ‘that page’ with adoring pictures of your family & friends, logos from your college & favorite sports teams, along with a list of career experiences. I had one of these Me-Me-Me pages (as one of my colleagues affectionately calls it), but that day I was going deeper into my story. I was asked by a good friend & coach to be vulnerable – let people in – show them you are human. Wait a minute, am I not human? I am – it’s just the side of me that people normally see is the polished one. I don’t share the messy stuff. Even writing now that I have messy stuff behind the scenes is hard. But guess what – we all do – it’s what makes us human.
So, in that small conference room, I took a deep breath and opened up with my story. Instead of simply saying my parents name – I shared what they did for a living and how my dad’s workaholic & perfection tendencies molded me. High school & college logos were not to show prestige, but instead the reality of how I worked full time and missed out on the opportunity to make deep friendships. (Side note – my college is a bit famous, winning 8 out of 9 FCS championships – go NDSU Bison!) Fast-forward to current state and the pictures of my kids in their soccer uniforms and how we love to be on the sidelines, but also the struggles we face with ADHD.
These are not details I should share – what will people think? I am supposed to be giving the team confidence in my abilities to lead and help them achieve their goals, not show where I struggle. What happened next, was the exact opposite of what I worried about. I received more notes from team members than I ever have after an introductory call…and not just the obligatory, ‘congratulations & welcome’. These were genuine, heartfelt notes. They shared their stories, offering empathy and making connections to my journey. As uncomfortable as it was, it was one of the best pieces of advice I have gotten – and I only wish I would have learned that lesson much earlier in my career. But let me be clear, this is still not my natural go-to. I grew up in both a home and work environment where you led with performance & results, so I need constant reminders to be human as well.
In my journey to learn more about opening up and sharing the messy stuff, I have leaned on Brené Brown’s, The Power of Vulnerability. She talks about how it is not a sign of weakness but instead the birthplace of joy. After the challenges of 2020 and the continuing pandemic, I’m confident we could all use a bit more joy in our lives.
For leaders, I challenge us to push to that place of uncomfortable more often – lead with vulnerability, you’ll be amazed to see what it unlocks in your team. Brené also correlates it to innovation in our business… “No vulnerability, no creativity. No tolerance for failure, no innovation.”
For those of you starting out in your career – when you get assigned a mentor or have the opportunity to connect with a senior leader, you can still create your me-me-me page, but also dig deep and think about what makes you human. Imagine the future possibilities when you make connections far deeper than what your resume depicts.
We are all human. Embrace vulnerability and soak in the joy!
*Head of US Category Management – Unilever
*Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
The opinions expressed here by guest bloggers are their own, not necessarily those of Stout Executive Search.