EOH’s Malisha Awunor shares why showing vulnerability as a leader matters

Malisha believes that being vulnerable is a credible and authentic demonstration of your humanity.

At a recent CHRO Community Conversation on mental health, EOH HR director Malisha Awunor raised the importance of vulnerability in leadership. CHRO SA set up time with her to explore this subject further.

Malisha believes that being vulnerable is a credible and authentic demonstration of your humanity and that it is critically important for CEOs and senior leaders to share this part of themselves frequently. She says leaders that are prepared to show their vulnerability more easily gain the trust of others, and are, in fact, more effective leaders. “Admitting our mistakes, seeking help, apologising, and acknowledging we don’t have the answers are all expressions of vulnerability.”

Malisha further explains that leaders who hold back on displaying vulnerability are often clinging to that old stereotype that a leader has to know everything and show strength – a viewpoint that makes them less connected. She believes that this misconception stems from the belief that it was necessary for women to be more like men to lead, and that showing emotion was seen as weak.

“Today from a gender perspective, women in senior management roles are tending to challenge that a bit more. But vulnerability isn’t just for women. It is not effeminate for men to show emotion and vulnerability either. It is powerful, it is honest and it is certainly welcomed by people in the business.”

Quite simply, Malisha always wants her team to be aware of her own emotions not because it is a burden, she wants them to help her shoulder but for them to know that expression of feelings are part of being human.

How to be a vulnerable leader
Malisha says vulnerable leaders take people along on a journey with them, and they create safe spaces for those they work with, “because if I can show you how I feel, you are certainly going to be more comfortable and tell me that you need help and you cannot cope and that is important.”
This allows for transparent communication, the building of comradery and can drive team efficiency.
For leaders who find discomfort in expressing vulnerability, she says, “You are not alone. Vulnerability is not weakness and as much as you have your team’s back you must know they will have yours.”

These are the three important benefits Malisha firmly believes will result from showing vulnerability as a leader:
• It shapes the kind of legacy you want to leave behind;
• It builds a stronger team; and
• It creates a safe space for your team to express their own vulnerability, this in turn builds team spirit and enables synergies.