Our culture has largely embraced an image of an ideal leader: someone who is outspoken, decisive and relentlessly confident. We see articles and books that put this type of personality on a pedestal, and seemingly insinuate that you are not a real leader if you show any signs of weakness.
I reject this completely.
In fact, I’ve seen time and again that revealing a little bit of vulnerability can go a long way in your relationships, both personally and professionally. Some of the best leaders I’ve known are the ones who have been willing to let a few of the cracks show, and aimed for honesty rather than perceived perfection. This is true internally among team members, and is also crucial to getting, keeping and satisfying customers. Here’s a look at how to give your customers the gift of vulnerability, and become an even more respected leader in the process.
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Don’t be Afraid to Be Real
When something goes awry in a project, human nature might tell you to cover it up or make it seem less disastrous than it really is. But omitting the truth or muddying the waters in order to save face will only come back to bite you in the end. If you or your team has made a mistake, admit it – quickly. You should be the first one to call attention to a misstep, instead of waiting to see if a customer catches it.
Then be real about why it happened. If you delivered a project late, don’t concoct a story about a technology glitch (the adult version of “my dog ate my homework”) if the truth is that one of your employees or you dropped the ball. Be forthright, apologize and then explain exactly the steps you will take to rectify the problem. Even though your clients expect the best from you, they also understand that you’re human. So be real, and then work your hardest to move on from your error and never make the same one again.
Offer Transparency with Confidence
The key to being transparent with your customers is to do so without causing them to lose certainty in your abilities. In other words, you want to relay problems honestly while not undermining your clients’ faith in your prowess. They’re entrusting you with their money, after all, so a lack of self-assurance could make them second-guess your entire relationship together. This is undoubtedly the last thing you want!
The best approach is to consider why you’re divulging a particular piece of information to your customer. If you have a concern about some internal strife between two of your employees, that’s something that probably doesn’t need to extend beyond the walls of your office. But if you’ve discovered there’s a conflict of interest that may make a client engagement borderline unethical, that’s something you need to disclose. Every time you consider being totally transparent, the best rule of thumb is to do so when an action by someone on your team is likely to impact the person and/or their company directly. If so, you want to get ahead of the issue and be the first to bring it up. If not, you can probably spare your client from being unnecessarily burdened with information.
Remember Trust is the Goal
The matter of transparency ultimately boils down to trust. Your clients need to be able to trust you unequivocally to do the job you promised to do. This is something with which you should never gamble. A late deliverable, an error on pricing and a mishap with technology all have one thing in common: they can all be rectified (at least to a certain extent). And they also don’t have to damage your relationship if you’re proactively transparent as soon as possible. Lying, manipulating or obfuscating important facts are of another nature entirely, and sever trust while weakening your credibility.
So, aim to be a real person in your interactions with your customers. Transparency is a big gift when used appropriately, and can prove your trustworthiness while helping you to connect more authentically with your clientele.