Vulnerability in the tech industry is dirty word. Firewalls must be robust, infrastructure must be secure, and if you’ve not got a handle on your data, you might as well write your own headline for The Register. In the past eight years I have written enough whitepapers and thought leadership pieces for vendors, developers and solution providers to paper a datacentre, so the spectre of what happens in a cyber attack is never far from my mind.

But there is a place in tech where vulnerability is valuable – in leadership. At the same time as putting the fear of God into enterprises, I have worked closely with founders, CMOs and CTOs to help them bring to the fore what they’re all about. And it isn’t about being a bullet-proof, bombastic uber-director who can crush a competitor with their bare hands. It’s about putting themselves in a position of vulnerability.

A distinctly non-corporate approach

So what does vulnerability look like? For the people I work with, it’s about taking a distinctly non-corporate approach – but one that recognises and respects the business. This means:

  • Sharing a little about themselves
  • Acknowledging fears and going for it anyway
  • Challenging misconceptions
  • Having fun

Hello all you risk-takers

A common trait that I have found amongst the people I work with is that they are used to taking risks in their professional and personal lives but they haven’t found a way to comfortably combine the two. They worry about getting it wrong, making themselves look stupid or undermining the credibility that they’ve already built. In an era when we are told to ‘bring your whole self to work’ it is very hard to strike that balance when you are carrying the number or responsible for a team of seasoned solution architects.

Creating a connection

The place in which demonstrating vulunerability is particularly effective is at company events where, let’s be honest, even the most dedicated of us will flag at the twenty-fifth mention of the conference tag-line or call to action. They provide a rare opportunity for employees to connect with their leadership in person – and a perfect setting to deliver something memorable. I mean, you’ve got great lighting, proper AV, an autocue and a captive (and possibly hung-over) audience – don’t waste that on another set of BORING SLIDES!

Here’s an idea

If you’re starting from a blank page, it’s hard to know what will work. And if you’re only working with people within your organisation, it can feel difficult to come up with a truly fresh idea. So here’s an example of something really works well.

Using poetry and rap

I’ve written raps about annual reports and poems on the focus for the next fiscal. And, because it’s always using words related to that business (and often name-checking people on the team), it brings the right balance of corporate and comedic. It also provides a chance for a leader to express vulnerability without feeling like they have to share something overly personal. Most people recoil in horror at the thought of having to recite a poem or rap on stage but most leaders are already comfortable speaking in front of a large audience. Using poetry or rap provides a great stretch for the presenter and something memorable for the audience.

That was so brave

The feedback from the audiences who have witnessed their leaders truly embrace this has been phenomenal. “I could never do that”, “That was so brave”, “It was amazing!”. In one particular instance, I worked with the incredible Leanne Brown to create a piece that she completely and utterly owned – going so far as to create a video with a soundtrack. As a marketing leader she was epitomising creativity and effective messaging. She also created an asset that could be re-used (another marketing gold star). To find out more about what Leanne did, and why it was important to her, check out her post.

Make it easy on yourself

What Leanne did so brilliantly was find a way to make the rap we worked on together work for her. Learning lyrics off-pat is fine if you’re Stormzy but then I wonder how he is with running a partner summit…..

With another client we changed the words to a massive hip-hop track. This meant that the audience were already with her as the opening bars rang out and when it got to the chorus they were joining in. Putting a spin on something that was familiar got people to up their energy levels and engage. There was even a mini-stage invasion.

Finally, for one VP of Sales, we decided on a poem but he didn’t want to deliver it from a lectern. Instead, we put his poem in a book and set it up like a cosy fireside chat – giving him the opportunity to draw the audience in so they would listen closely before surprising them with his lyrical dexterity.

In each of these instances, the leaders involved showed their willingness to be vulnerable by opening themselves up to a new challenge. The conference attendees got to see people who are at the top of their game professionally doing something a little bit risky. It demonstrated that the organisations they work for are open to doing things differently – and that they see value in vulnerability.

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As I writer I help tech leaders express themselves honestly and bring a human touch to corporate communications.

As a speaker and stand-up, I tell it like it is.

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