Vulnerability Paves the Way for Healing (by guest blogger John Baldoni)

Posted by: Patricia O'Connell on February 19, 2010

I hope no executive in a position of authority accepts Tiger Woods’ prepared statement as a blueprint for how to make a public apology. The words were right, but the sincerity seemed lacking for one simple reason. It was designed more for self-protection rather than self-improvement.

While Tiger does not need to make amends to the public--that is reserved for his wife and family--as a public figure who has made hundreds of millions in sponsorship dollars he does need to demonstrate a change of heart. No change was evident. This event was stage-managed in much the same way all of Tiger’s public appearances off the golf course are. Reporters were not even allowed to ask questions (but his mother was there to give him a big hug).

As an expression of regret it may have worked, but it didn’t go far enough. Sincere apologies are reflections of an authentic self. As such they must signify more than a realization of wrongdoing--they must demonstrate a commitment to making things right again. Very importantly a person who apologizes must show a degree of vulnerability; he has to show that his wrongdoing has been hurtful to others and therefore hurtful to him.

No one aspires to leadership to reveal vulnerability. In some ways this may be the antithesis of our expectation that a leader remain always in control. We want our leaders to be strong as well as bold; we don’t like to see them weak; we don’t want them to be humbled. But at the same time, we need them to show humility.

Showing humility is an acknowledgement that you are first and foremost human, capable of doing good things but also aware that you have your shortcomings. Yes, dealing with those failings is a sign of vulnerability, but doing so reveals courage rather than cowardice. Aspiring to self-perfection is a fool’s errand; admitting to falling short and resolving to do your best is a sign of strength.

There is another aspect to vulnerability; it has mass appeal. The leader who is willing to admit he or she does not have all of the answers but still tries is one that seems more believable than someone who pretends to know it all. It has been said many times that dictators are those who have all the answers. Leaders by contrast have answers but are smart enough to understand what they know and what they do not know.

Can you be overly vulnerable? Certainly! Governor Mark Sanford is a case in point. When he first acknowledged his affair with his Argentine mistress, he appeared more like an emotional guest on a reality TV talk show than the chief executive of South Carolina. Worse even are executives indicted for financial improprieties who pretend to be innocent victims of the very frauds they perpetrated.

Consultant, coach, speaker, and author John Baldoni was named by 2010 Top Leadership Gurus as of the world's top 25 leadership experts. John's newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.

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Reader Comments

Monica Michel

February 22, 2010 03:20 PM

I am so sick of hearing about Tiger Woods. Especially with all the other nonsense going on in Washington.

Tiger is famous because he is a great Golfer. Period. He is not a religious figure, preacher or a politican ruling against those things that he is doing. He owes is Family the apologies - The media has blown this way out of proportion. I am so bored with this.

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Richard Davis

February 23, 2010 11:40 PM

Good post. To me, this is about fallibility. It is so important for leaders to show that they are fallible: they are not perfect, they don't have all the answers, and they are willing to take in advice from others. Fallible leadership is not vulnerability (which implies weakness). Instead, it describes the human side of leadership.

It is ok to say to people that you aren't perfect as in, "I am not always going to make the right decisions" or show that you don't have it all figured out, as in asking your direct reports "I would really like your advice on what we should do." There is strength, rather than weakness, in fallible leadership...

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dingdong

March 22, 2010 10:13 AM

I am so sick of hearing about Tiger Woods. Especially with all the other nonsense going on in Washington.

Tiger is famous because he is a great Golfer. Period. He is not a religious figure, preacher or a politican ruling against those things that he is doing. He owes is Family the apologies - The media has blown this way out of proportion. I am so bored with this.

In an effort to curb malicious comment posting by abusive users, I've enabled a feature that requires a weblog commenter to wait a short amount of time before being able to post again. Please try to post your comment again in a short while. Thanks for your patience.

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How can you manage smarter? BusinessWeek writers Nanette Byrnes, Patricia O’Connell, Emily Thornton, Matthew Boyle, Michelle Conlin and Diane Brady synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.

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