Vulnerable Leadership. Why being a Mental Fitness role model is integral to being an effective leader.

Emotional Intelligence, Leadership Development

Various team members here have found themselves watching the global Netflix hit Money Heist to wind down over the last few months.

It’s high octane, high adrenaline and high drama. One of the things we’ve loved about it here at Cognomie is the way it offers a not so subtle critique of certain forms of leadership.

The two rather machismo fuelled, pumped up, “I know best” style leaders, Colonel Luis Tamayo and Colonel Alfonso Prieto, who attempt to deal with the subtler, chess-like tactics of the Professor and his team, end up coming out of the whole affair rather badly.

It’s rather easy to parody this style of leadership, particularly with military personnel when stereotypes can be all too easy to default to. We once worked with a Sandhurst trained leadership trainer who’s mantra was “great leaders need to be as good at listening and following as at leading”, which quickly rebukes any preconceptions about internal mantras from within the military..

The critical insight with our Money Heist Colonel however is that they revert to this style of leadership when they are under immense pressure to perform and succeed.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Aneel Chima and Ron Gutman reflect on how pressure and challenges can allow this leadership style to come to the fore.

“In times of uncertainty, leaders often posture themselves, maximizing perception of power and control.”

They contrast this with an emerging model of leadership where instead of modelling authority, effective leaders exhibit authenticity, vulnerability and humility. They quote Icelandic business leader Halla Tómasdóttir’s questioning of the paradigm of a leader as an individualistic hero:

“What this crisis has shown us is that the leadership style of ‘I know it all’ is not a good leadership style for this moment or any other challenge we are going to continue to face and need to deal with collectively, collaboratively, with compassion, and with care.”

It was heartening to explore these themes in greater depth during the recent Wellbeing at Work summit where a number of discussions focused on the challenges of “leaning in” to this new leadership paradigm. A number of delegates reflected on how the “traditional model” of authority based leadership can actually feel like an easier, or more defensive position, to take during times of challenge and how it takes real strength and resilience to be able to show and share vulnerability.

This is something we recognise more and more from our experiences helping organisations navigate these challenging times by supporting teams with transformational coaching. First of all we see the emerging understanding of the power of modelling vulnerability as a core leadership skill. Secondly the recognition that the resilience that can be achieved via transformational coaching can help leaders to access and model this. And thirdly, an emerging understanding that this is about more than just an evolving model of leadership, and more about developing a culture of resilience and a language of vulnerability and authenticity throughout the organisation, not just at the C-Suite level.

Perhaps it is the sense of potential and positivity we are finding in these themes, at the summit and with our clients, that make us feel a strong sense of empathy with the two beleaguered colonels in Money Heist as they try and bend the world to meet their demands, and a sense of hope that perhaps after their challenging ordeals, they embarked on some transformational coaching for themselves.


by | 13 Jan 2022

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