How business leaders can gain customers by expressing vulnerability

Using social media to share moments of failures could help top executives get closer to their teams and customers

I was going through my old emails last week and came across correspondences with friends that included photos from their travels. My inbox rarely contains such emails nowadays because my friends and I share our news and photos from our travels on social media.

In the past decade, social media not only helped to connect us with friends, it also brought business leaders closer to their customers. It changed the game for customer service and provided customers with a window into the inner workings of their favourite brands, allowing them to voice concerns directly with business leaders.

However, many business leaders use social media to share a filtered version of their businesses. Rarely do we come across businesses or leaders who share their vulnerability or moments of failures online. Yet, ironically, this is exactly what would bring business leaders closer to their teams and customers.

My colleague manages a marketing consultancy that motivates brands to grow and reach a wider audience. Yet, he struggles to motivate his team or inspire his clients. He has a formal, serious persona, where his every move seems meticulously calculated. His team complained he came off as distant and not as motivating as his brand aims to be.

Just like many others, he believes the key to effective leadership is to hide vulnerability and adopt an in-control, strong front. But browsing videos on YouTube such as Ted Talks or talk shows like AB Talks, which feature prominent personalities and celebrities, demonstrate the exact opposite of what people find effective. They prove how humility, authenticity and sharing vulnerabilities and moments of weakness are in fact inspiring. These aspects humanise leaders and experts, making them more relatable.

I distinctly remember that some of the first comments I heard from friends who started tuning into beauty mogul Huda Kattan’s blog 10 years ago were about how honest and relatable she was. And that was what helped her get loyal followers for her blog, and her beauty products that followed.

Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook is among the other effective business leaders who are not shy of taking responsibility when their company’s products fail.

There’s a strong connection between vulnerability and trust. When we relate to people, we trust them and that can positively affect business performance. A study by Harvard Business Review showed that if a hotel’s employees trusted their managers more one-eighth of a point on its trust barometer, the company’s profitability increased by 2.5 per cent.

Luckily, business leaders can be trained to share their vulnerability, which, in turn, would help them connect better with their teams and customers.

The best way to start is by studying others. Look at inspirational personalities who share their vulnerabilities and how that has helped them become more influential. A good example here is American media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who often discusses her weaknesses and failures on her television show. Her personal approach made her feel relatable and that’s what helped her to become one of the most popular and influential television personalities of our time.

Start at home. Inspire your team by getting to know them on a personal level. If you want to motivate your team, share your own experience. Be honest about the mistakes you’ve made and how you overcame them.

You can cultivate a culture of authenticity and encourage an open dialogue across the organisation by dedicating the first few minutes of a meeting to discuss various topics such as lessons learnt, failures, success and aspirations. Or, if your schedule permits, you can incorporate a catch-up meeting with your team every week to discuss everything but work.

Incorporate an open culture and a personal approach in your brand’s story and share your successes as well as moments of weakness with your customers.

Do that by sharing behind the scenes or narrate your brand’s story by including everything from your moments of success to moments of failure.

In a world where we are bombarded by filtered content, businesses and leaders who demonstrate vulnerability are a breath of fresh air.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi

Updated: October 3rd 2021, 3:30 AM