In a January 15th interview with Robin Demeniconi of the Elle Group, she reveals a consistently valuable trait of a good leader: the confidence to be vulnerable. In this “Corner Office” interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, Robin talks about how she is dyslexic and doesn’t always understand what people are saying, yet she is not afraid to ask them to explain what they mean, or to appear ignorant. Two questions come up when I read this:
1. How can revealing a weakness be a strength?
In answer to the first question, it has to do with knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and still feeling confident in the value that we offer. Ironically, the willingness to reveal weakness without feeling weak is a more compelling and ultimately more convincing indication of our abilities than appearing to be without weaknesses of any kind.
I believe that we intuitively know this already, even if we (as a cultural) consistently choose to focus on perfection as a goal.
I recently experienced an example of this while bringing my car to the dealership for a recurring problem with the battery dying after only a few days of not driving it (the car is a 2009). The second time that I brought the vehicle in to be checked out, the service manager told me what he was going to do to the car, which was the exact same test they ran on the car the last time I brought it in. I asked how he expects to get a different response from the same battery of tests. I was definitely frustrated at this point, mostly with the car, but his response changed my focus entirely. He basically said that, “if” there was a problem, then the computer would find it. When I responded by saying that there obviously is a problem and that I wanted it fixed, he began to defend his position that he can’t fix anything that the computer doesn’t say is broken. Now I was frustrated with him and the whole dealership. All I wanted from him was empathy and an understanding of how frustrating it is to have this happen repeatedly to your car for no reason. If he had just said, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m frustrated because I only know what the computer is telling me” I would have felt more relaxed. I would still want the car fixed, but now we are on the same team. He is as frustrated as I am, but he wants to solve the problem as badly as I do.
The difference is that he would have had to admit his own limitations (i.e. the reliance on the computer) in diagnosing the car. What I knew about the car didn’t matter, only what the computer told him about it did. That’s a pretty vulnerable place to have to be for someone who is supposed to be able to fix every car. Instead of getting me on his side by revealing his own limitations, we were in opposition about who was “wrong.”
In Robin Domeniconi’s interview, she talks about being dyslexic and how she doesn’t always understand everything that is being said to her, so she asks a lot of questions that might seem obvious. Rather than see this as a weakness, she uses it as a strength. There are a lot of times when we are afraid to ask questions because we don’t want to sound ignorant or stupid. In her case, the willingness to not be the smartest person in the room makes her much more valuable to her employers and her clients.