I’ve climbed the ladder to a position of top expertise in the male-dominated tech field, and to get here I’ve had to keep my head down, keep driving, and not take sh*t from anyone. My “tough girl” attitude has taken me far for many years, but since my promotion last year I keep getting feedback that I need to build alliances, create more followership, and be more open and vulnerable. Unfortunately, I’m hearing that while people respect me, they have a hard time connecting with me.
If I were a man, I just know I would not be getting this feedback! And I don’t see how being more vulnerable will help me do my job any better. How do I keep my expert status, but make the right connections to get to the next step?
First, let’s unpack this. Your question tells us that:
- Your success has come from you being tough.
- What you’ve been doing to date can and will carry you further in your career.
- This wouldn’t be an issue if you were a man doing the same things.
- Vulnerability equals weakness and is a liability.
So, exactly how is your problem a power problem? A few thoughts:
- You’ve been overusing your expert and positional power while underusing your personal power to build relationships.
- You don’t know how to lead with any other kind of power than the one(s) you’ve been using.
- You don’t fully understand what it means to be vulnerable, and you don’t see vulnerability as power, but as a weakness.
You’re not wrong about the gender bias realities many women face. Generations of gaslighting women as overly sensitive and emotional have led female leaders to mask their emotions, hide their thoughts, and miss out on bringing their full selves to the workplace.
However, while vulnerability is often mistaken for weakness or fragility, it’s actually one of your greatest strengths.
Vulnerability doesn’t mean exposing your feelings all the time or being soft; it means being easy to approach, admitting when you don’t know something or have made a mistake, showing yourself as a learner, and talking about your leadership journey. This makes it easier for people to work with you, ask for help when needed, and take feedback and direction when necessary. Vulnerability creates deeper relationships, which benefits you not just professionally but personally as well.
What’s the Solution?
Consider that your career is a journey. And at each stage of that journey, another kind of leadership quality and power is needed. At this particular juncture, vulnerability is what is required.
But the first step is to see vulnerability as a type of power, not weakness. Rather than just doubling down on your identity of being unassailable, it’s time to work on being easier to approach and building connections.
Use a low-risk situation to ask questions of a colleague, ask someone for some help, talk to your team about your journey thus far, or discuss obstacles you’ve struggled with in the past. It won’t come naturally at first, but if you commit to persist even when it’s uncomfortable, it will get easier.
There’s power in showing your humanity! You just have to unleash it.