Now, more than ever, leaders must lead from a more vulnerable and authentic place to move others forward and inspire positive change in their organization. Great leadership is not about your technical expertise or how impressive your accomplishments are. The best leaders make others feel confident and share the way things really are. What people are truly seeking in the workplace – because they know it brings out the best in them – is safety in their conversations and their relationships.

What is naked leadership?

Naked leadership is about taking risks to move others forward. A naked leader creates psychological safety for others, which allows them to connect with one another on a personal level, take risks and speak freely.

How can you be a naked leader?

A naked leader gives others permission to take risks by being vulnerable first. They lead by example to help move others forward. Simply put, naked leaders get naked first.

A naked leader is not afraid to:

  • Admit a weakness or acknowledge a mistake
  • Share how it really is
  • Ask for feedback

When you give others permission to “get naked” in the workplace by modeling it yourself, you enhance the connectivity, trust, innovation and engagement within your teams. When others see you get naked, they are inspired to take more risks, get to the heart of what really matters, and bring their authentic selves to work. Just imagine what new possibilities you can create in your organization when your team members feel connected, quit hiding what’s really going on for them and move forward, together!

Some common questions about naked leadership

Here are a few answers to common questions abut naked leadership. If you want to dive deeper, check out the free webinar Brian did for CPAacademy:

Q: How does confidence impact the willingness to get naked?

A: Confidence definitely plays a part. How do we gain confidence in most of the things we do in life? Whether it’s holding a difficult conversation or speaking in public, most of us gain confidence through doing – by practicing, by using those particular muscles.

If you want to gain more confidence in leading with vulnerability, consider doing three things:

  • Notice opportunities where you could be vulnerable with others. Ask yourself questions like:
    • What am I hiding or pretending not to know?
    • What’s getting in the way of me sharing what’s really going on for me with others?
  • Share what you noticed! Being a naked leader requires taking a risk. Being vulnerable requires you to disclose something, despite not knowing how others will react. If you start doing 1) above, I promise the opportunities will present themselves. Just dip a toe in, and give it a try!
  • Acknowledge yourself for sharing! Even if things did not go as you anticipated (e.g., the other person did not react as you would have liked), give yourself credit for trying. It’s important that you tried, and you can acknowledge that and try again!

Confidence will help, and confidence increases with practice. But also understand that you may not ever feel supremely confident when a situation requires vulnerability, because vulnerability is about welcoming uncertainty. You have to be willing, as a leader, to take that risk of not knowing what the outcome will be. That’s what makes it so inspiring to others. If it were easy, then everyone would do it!

Q: How do you address vulnerabilities that go beyond the workplace (i.e., family, health)?

A: I’ll address this question from two perspectives: 1) What should you do when one of your team members has this type of personal challenge? 2) What should you share when you are the one experiencing the personal challenge?

Let’s start with someone on your team. The short answer is – handle with care! Let’s remember that the same human being who is going through family or health issues is the same human being who works in your office. If you ask that person to leave all of that at home, then you’re asking them to put on a mask and hide what’s really going on for them. If you want people to bring their whole, awesome (yet imperfect!) selves to work, then you should invite them to share.

But also keep this in mind – different people come from different backgrounds. They may hold different boundaries. You can use questions to connect, instead of insisting that someone share. Asking questions like these demonstrates naked leadership:

  • How are you really doing?
  • Is there anything you’d like to share with me that will help you feel more present and focused today?

How you ask these types of questions matters

Keep in mind, how you ask these types of questions matters significantly. When you use a tone of curiosity and empathy, you enhance the chance for connection.

Now, let’s assume you are the one with the personal challenge. It may feel really hard to share those personal things with others in the workplace. Ultimately, you are the only one who can decide what feels right to share and what is in the best interest of all parties (you, your team and your organization).

Studies have shown that in many cases, even if it feels hard to be vulnerable ourselves, we admire it in others. You may find it helpful to flip the situation, and think about it from the other person’s perspective – what would you want a colleague to share, if they were going through a similar situation to yours? Reflecting on this question can shed light on how naked you want to get. In my own experience, I’ve found that most people are touched that you chose to share what’s really going on for you and want to offer support.

Q: Given one wishes to “get naked,” how would you suggest we introduce the subject? I can’t imagine running into a meeting naked from the start.

A: I understand how getting naked right away may feel really awkward. On the other hand, I’ve seen leaders do exactly this, especially during critical times in their leadership. For example:

  • At the start of a big change initiative that will be hard – People see right through sugar-coating and positive spin. Instead, they want to hear what you, as the leader, really think about this. What do you think will be tough about this change? How are you personally challenged by it? And what are you doing to prepare for that?
  • When a situation or challenge truly requires new thinking – It takes a vulnerable leader to ask a group to admit you don’t have the answers right now, but you want to create the space to uncover new ideas and innovative thinking. “What we have done so far has not worked. My ideas have not worked. Let’s work together to come up with something new.”

To ease the awkwardness of getting naked at the start, consider asking your team these questions to introduce the concept of vulnerability:

  • How good are we about admitting mistakes to one another…or sharing when we don’t know something…or speaking up when we have something to say?
  • If we were better at doing these things, what impact could it have on us, as a team?
  • What could we specifically do to get better at these things?

Anything that gets the team talking about how to best work together and be vulnerable with each other is only going to help the team grow, together! That, in itself, is a “naked” conversation.

Choose to get naked, first. Dip a toe in, and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised!

See you in the DoP (Dimension of Possible)!

“Now, more than ever, leaders must lead from a more vulnerable and authentic place to move others forward and inspire positive change in their organization.”