Vulnerability and Authenticity
I recently read an interview from a Womenetics’ email (if you’re not a subscriber, you should be). The interview, titled “DeCan on Authenticity: Just Dance,” was with Maggie DeCan, the President and COO of HoneyBaked Ham Company of Georgia.
DeCan believes that vulnerability and authenticity are important qualities in leaders, and I agree. Her own willingness to be vulnerable and authentic – whether it is in the personal telling of the story of her mother’s death or dancing like a seahorse instead of a dolphin in front of 300 people and owning that dance – are traits that I see in many successful leaders. Vulnerability means you own experiences and mistakes and are willing to be the “first one up” to talk about them. In DeCan’s view, this often creates followership.
In 2008 as our firm began planning for our first-ever succession from our managing partner to a new managing partner, I was comfortably situated in my 18th year with Smith & Howard and enjoying my role as the audit practice leader. I decided to add my name to the list of partners that were candidates to be the next managing partner – a step that put me in a vulnerable position if I was selected (or not selected, for that matter). I knew it could affect me not only emotionally and physically, but financially as well. If I failed in the role, it could affect the reputation of the firm and impact our staff. I am passionate about Smith & Howard and have always had a “firm first” attitude. So having a more direct role in the future of so many people and of the firm was intimidating, but also exciting.
Succeeding our first, only and very successful and admired managing partner would have been a challenge for anyone who assumed the role. Jim Howard is respected not only by the partners and staff of our firm, but by leaders in the community and in our profession. It would be impossible to replace a legend (look at the lack of success of the coaches that followed Bear Bryant until recently). So while I knew I could never fill Jim’s shoes, I believed that I could preserve the culture and values we had all worked so hard to cultivate while imparting my own style of management. I knew my limitations and wasn’t afraid to seek guidance or accept constructive criticism. I got plenty of both. While my approach is one of collaboration and concensus-building, I am fully aware that the buck stops with me.
Each year when I lead our firm meetings or when I present my report at the year-end partner meeting, it is difficult to make it through the success we have experienced without feeling emotional. I am reminded at those times how true this particular Smith & Howard value is, “The firm’s success is a result of the efforts of the group as a whole and mutual respect, compromise and support one toward another.”
As a leader, how do you express your vulnerability? Are you willing to share your story?
Please visit this link to read the interview with Maggie DeCan and be sure look for her guest post on this blog this summer.