Five Ways to Lead with Your Weaknesses

  “Weakness is bad. Real leaders must be strong and not weak.”

These messages are drilled into us daily and we buy the lies.

So we pressure ourselves and others to hide weaknesses. At work, we no longer even use the “W” word – at least about ourselves. Instead we have “opportunities for development.” Or we describe our weaknesses like Michael Scott in the TV series The Office: “I work too hard and care too much …”

Hey, I’m all for knowing and leveraging strengths. But we’ve gone too far. And I am as guilty as anyone; I want to be seen as strong, together, smart, right … perfect. But, like it or not, we all have weaknesses. (If you don’t know yours, start with your lack of self-awareness.)

If you and I don’t lead openly in our weaknesses, as well as our strengths, we limit authenticity, connection and trust. We stunt our own effectiveness and the effectiveness of those we lead.

It’s time to face and embrace weaknesses. Here are five tangible ways to lead in our weakness:

  1. Admit it when you make a mistake or fall short. Be quick to say you’re sorry. And mean it. Resist the urge to blame someone else or make excuses. It is amazing how much quicker everyone moves forward when people own their shortcomings.
  2. Complement someone who is strong in an area where you’re not. Instead of beating yourself up or covering up your weakness, give genuine kudos and credit to others where they shine.
  3. Ask others for help in an area where you’re not strong. I recently saw a senior executive ask a colleague for advice in an area outside of her strengths. She didn’t beat herself up about being weaker in this area, and she didn’t try to hide it. She simply asked for his help, and he gladly gave it. Interestingly, he has begun to ask her for advice in her areas of expertise, too. When one person lets her guard down in a good way, others tend to follow suit, and everyone benefits.
  4. Share something vulnerable about yourself. A colleague opened up about challenges parenting her child who had special needs. Another leader shared with her team her disappointment about being single. A well-known technology leader expressed her faith journey as part of her keynote address at a leadership conference. In each case, these people risked sharing something vulnerable. And because they did it with sensitivity, humility and a desire to connect with and serve others, the impact was powerful. Trust was built, others were inspired, and communication and relationships were built.
  5. Show grace to others when they appear weak or vulnerable. Leaders set the tone; when a leader demonstrates vulnerability, others follow. And when others follow suit – and are affirmed in this – culture is changed for the better.

Weaknesses and struggles are primary avenues for keeping us humble and for building perseverance and empathy. Weakness also gives opportunities to build relationships, trust and engagement and to help others shine. Ironically, it’s in our weaknesses where we have the greatest potential to be truly strong.

Credit: Thanks to Rev. @HarveyCarey for an inspirational talk he delivered on July 13, 2014 to a Chicago church in the wake of his own struggle. That talk prompted this article.

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps people lead with strength and weaknesses. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.