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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Oct 25, 2017

Vulnerable Leaders


The supervisor has super vision. The leader knows more. The captain makes the calls. The best and the brightest know best. The cream rises to the top. We accept that there will be leaders either our “superiors” or “the first among equals”. We put leaders up on a pedestal, we expect more from them than we expect from ourselves. We judge them, appraise them, measure them, discuss them.


When you become a leader what do you find? There are rival aspirant leaders aplenty waiting in the wings to take over. They have the elbows out to shove the current leader aside and replace them. Organisations seem to be stacked with politicians who are excellent at ingratiating themselves with the higher ups and climbing over the bodies of their rivals to get to the top. Their political nous seems to be in inverse proportion to their lack of real leadership ability.


Given we have much flatter organisations today and the correspondent pressure to do more faster and better with less, the pressure on leaders is at an all time high. The super leader is bullet proof, never makes a mistake and sums up the situation perfectly. They are also a pain to work for. Followers don’t deal well with perfection. This is mainly because it is fake, because no one is perfect. It is a leader charade, a marketing effort, a clever attempt to maintain their position power.


We never feel close to people like that, because there is no way in for us to be close to them. They are always separated from us by their self important self-image. We cannot identify with them because while they project they are perfect, we are only too aware of our own failings. We don’t like perfect people because they make us feel inadequate and uncomfortable. They seem nothing like us, so there is felt to be very little in common.


The irony is that as leaders, the less perfect we try to project ourselves, the more effective we will be in winning over followers. Yes, absolutely, we have to be competent, but we don’t have to be perfect. We have the have the goods but we don’t have to be pain. By admitting our foibles and failings, we provide a way in for our followers to identify with us. When your basic premise is “I am perfect”, then you have to invest a lot of energy in backing that claim up and maintaining the perfectly assembled facade.


On the other hand, you can say I am imperfect, but I still bring plenty of value to my followers and the organisation. You are confident enough to say you are not Mr. or Ms. Perfect. People lacking in confidence often try to appear something they are not, because they are not confident to show others their weaknesses. I was exactly like that for a very long time.


When I was younger, I thought I had to be the best, brightest, smartest, toughest, quickest and the hardest worker. I thought all of this was necessary, because I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. I was raised in a typical Aussie macho environment in Brisbane, where men had a clearly defined role and weakness wasn’t any part of it. How about your case?


As you move through your career you meet leaders who don’t make any claims about how great they are and their teams love them. They don’t strut around trying to prove they are the best and they just get on with helping others succeed. They are comfortable within their own skin and having nothing to prove to anyone. They get the job done like a duck on water. Above the surface it looks like they are just gliding along, without any effort being made, while the legs are working away under the waterline.


The current Mayor of Yokohama Fumiko Hayashi was relating a story about her time as a manager in BMW. She was unafraid to appear less than perfect, to encourage the men working for her to help her achieve the firm’s goals. She later became president of BMW, Tokyo Nissan Auto sales and the Daiei supermarket chain - all bastions of male management.


She was able to project her vulnerability and yet succeed in a male dominated Japan business world. I don’t think this had anything to do with the fact she was a woman. I can think of another example right now of another extremely successful Japanese woman, who just projects ice in the veins, vicious, steely, killer toughness. The out-machoing the men in the room way to the top. This domination approach is one way of doing it and I have worked for plenty of men like that. I never liked them, respected them or was motivated by them. I thought they were jerks. Hayashi san however was able to be vulnerable and get others to help her and this is the lesson we can all learn.


By being able to be vulnerable, we establish a relationship with our team where they feel comfortable. They still respect our ability, experience, dedication, hard work and our focus on helping them to succeed. None of that goes away just because we don’t go around projecting we are superman or superwoman.


So let’s be confident and vulnerable at the same time. If we do that, gathering followers will become easier and leading will become more enjoyable and successful.


Engaged employees are self-motivated. The self-motivated are inspired. Inspired staff grow your business but are you inspiring them? We teach leaders and organisations how to inspire their people. Want to know how we do that? Contact me at


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About The Author

Dr. Greg Story: President, Dale Carnegie Training Japan

In the course of his career Dr. Greg Story has moved from the academic world, to consulting, investments, trade representation, international diplomacy, retail banking and people development. Growing up in Brisbane, Australia he never imagined he would have a Ph.D. in Japanese decision-making and become a 30 year veteran of Japan.


A committed lifelong learner, through his published articles in the American, British and European Chamber journals, his videos and podcasts “THE Leadership Japan Series”, "THE Sales Japan series", THE Presentations Japan Series", he is a thought leader in the four critical areas for business people: leadership, communication, sales and presentations. Dr. Story is a popular keynote speaker, executive coach and trainer.


Since 1971, he has been a disciple of traditional Shitoryu Karate and is currently a 6th Dan. Bunbu Ryodo (文武両道-both pen & sword) is his mantra and he applies martial art philosophies and strategies to business.