There is a saying in the coach community – that we end up coaching clients on what we need to hear and work on ourselves. Sometimes that’s more true than others.

I will come clean. I do find that I often need to hear and work on the same things that I am hearing from and working on with my clients. I learn and grow along with them at times.

I have a client who is going through something very difficult at home. They are dealing with it well – as well as anyone could – but they have a habit of not sharing details of their personal life with their work colleagues. Especially difficult details.

“You can tell people that you’re handling tough things at home,” I offered my client a few weeks ago. “You don’t have to give them details. You can tell them you don’t want them to ask you about it. You can set any boundaries you want. But you can (and should) let them know you have a lot going on…”

I could see the disbelief, and horror even, on my client’s face. “But work and home are – and need to be – separate,” my client answered.

“Yes, and yet it’s okay – in fact, it’s a leadership best practice – to admit that you’re carrying a lot. So that people know. So that people understand. So that people cut you slack…because you can’t keep going at this level…you need to be cut slack.”

Many of us somehow have this belief that leadership and strength means – requires – that we never admit trouble or weakness. That we never ask for help, share a personal challenge or difficulty, or call out when we need to be given a “pass” at times. But the opposite is true.

I know that my client’s first judgment was that telling anyone that things were tough at home was somehow being too vulnerable. Too weak. I showed my client a different and more empowering perspective – that being vulnerable, asking for help, and admitting that things are hard are all leadership strengths. We are admitting our humanity. We are acknowledging that we’re not all powerful. We are accepting that we can’t do everything alone.

And that, my friends, again, is a sign of strength.

I reminded my client that by letting others know about challenges at home – albeit with boundaries of their choosing – they were modeling this behavior for their direct reports and team members. They were giving everyone else permission to admit when they needed help or at least a bit of understanding. They were, again, allowing humanness in. Which makes sense as we’re all humans.

So, how (and why) did I need to learn this as well? I too have a situation that’s tough for me – not as tough as my client’s, but tough nonetheless. And somehow my conversation with my client cracked open my (at times) very stubborn brain and thought patterns. I had let myself believe that asking for help – for a literal or metaphorical hug, for compassion and understanding and support – was somehow weakness in me.

And I let myself hear what I said to my client. That being vulnerable and needing comfort or help from others – and admitting it – are signs of strength. True Thoughtful Leadership strength.

May we all keep reminding each other of that. Especially now.

How have you learned to be more human and to lead with vulnerability?
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