Male Executive

Why the High-Powered Male Executive Needs to Learn to Be Vulnerable

June 13, 2017

Why the High-Powered Male Executive Needs to Learn to Be Vulnerable

By Coach Hina Khan

Fox. Uber. Q.

For those who follow the news, the mere mention of these brands provokes unease. It’s understandable, given how they remind us of how certain behaviors we accepted despite their being inappropriate can quickly transform into unacceptable excesses.

Though scandalous now, these behaviors were often commonplace and in fact enabled by an alpha-male style of leadership.  


Redefining Strength

The particular style of leadership to which I refer, often associated with the figure of the unscrupulous high-powered male executive, maintains its own definitions of strength and weakness.

Strength means to carry the burden while bullying, bludgeoning, and beguiling reluctant and inferior team-members towards the finish line. Weakness represents showing emotions other than anger, admitting uncertainty, and elevating others. Based on the old-school definition of leadership, showing vulnerability clearly falls into the “weakness” category.

Just as the aforementioned companies had to come to terms with new societal norms regarding the behaviour of their high-powered male executives, so too do we all need to come to terms with a new definition of leadership whose major shift includes the movement of “vulnerability” from the “weakness” to the “strength” column.


To Change Is To Survive

Society no longer rewards what it once rewarded. A previous generation of executives were applauded when they operated as if devoid of social consciousness and pushed profits at the cost of the environment and the health of their employees. Today’s executives must reconcile with a new type of consumer who wants to do business with companies that both share and reflect their value systems.

Herein we find the shift in leadership styles: managing a successful business in the 21st century requires empathy, and empathy itself requires seeing the world from the perspectives of others. Empathy also requires that we have the emotional intelligence and self-awareness to understand how we are perceived in the eyes of others. Being in harmony with our surroundings requires that we first find harmony within ourselves.

Within the workplace, being vulnerable means sharing the burden, which in turn means delegating and managing through our teams in order to achieve our goals; inspiring rather than demanding action. Whereas before, men might be expected to dictate orders from a throne, noways successful male executives realize that being a boss is not a confirmation of superiority, but rather the designation of a higher-level of responsibility.

A good boss, therefore, trusts and elevates his team. Rather than being threatened by high-performing subordinates, the new-aged boss enables their success, removing obstacles and assigning resources as required.


Leadership Does Not Mean Absolute Control

In previous generations, high-powered male executives often portrayed themselves as unquestionably confident, so as to consolidate their position of power. Under the tutelage of the control-obsessive boss, decisions waited to reach the executive’s desk and, as the company grew, pending decisions piled-up higher and higher. In other words, rather than leading the organization’s growth, the high-powered male executive became its principal bottleneck.


Failing To Change Hurts Our Families

Businesses aren’t the only victims of non-delegating executives: when executives can’t relinquish control, their personal lives also suffer. As their business grows, they lose more and more control, but fail to design a system that will help them adjust to the change.

Instead, their trusted lieutenants seek opportunities to exercise agency elsewhere, often forsaking pay and status for the opportunity to lead. A leader who doesn’t operate with empathy won’t understand this “talent-flight,” principally because he doesn’t understand that different employees are motivated by different things.

Part of the myth of the high-powered male executive was prompted by his supposed ability to compartmentalize seamlessly: his family life resided in one part of his brain and, upon reaching the office, he could simply flick a switch and turn back to office mode.

As a coach and therapist, I can confidently say that there is no such thing as compartmentalizing.

An executive who doesn’t find support at work, thus failing to solve the problems of his growing business, will inevitably bring that stress back home. Similarly, if the same executive is stressed out due to an unfulfilling family-life, his work will also suffer.

The economy of the future is based on information and digital technology. Businesses manage and process more information than ever, and it’s simply naive to think that a modern executive can manage this newfound abundance of information while hoarding decision-making at the same time.

In this case, the executive needs to get out of his own way, leverage his team, and become the voice that leads through guidance rather than by pulling all the strings.


Why Vulnerability?

So why does the high-powered male executive needs to learn to be vulnerable? Because vulnerability is the key to forming meaningful and reciprocal relationships with our teams.

Without vulnerability, an executive will find it hard to develop the bonds necessary to generate an openness that allows him to achieve real empathy.

Without empathy, it’s impossible to understand how to motivate a team, how to understand the mindset of the constantly-evolving consumer, nor how to optimize our behaviour in order to get the results we seek.

Without vulnerability the high-powered male executive will not find quality time with his family, nor will he earn the respect and admiration of his colleagues.



Such questionable behavioral patterns among high-powered executives are only possible when the perpetrator is operating with a complete lack of empathy for his victims and an unbridled sense for his own place and privilege within the organization.

As companies such as Fox and Uber are discovering through lost-revenues and damaged brands, the cost of maintaining an antiquated leadership style can be very high.

The first step towards redefining leadership in the modern-age is considering vulnerability not as a weakness but as a strength. Only then can the executive turn his power into an instrument of success, rather than an instrument of his and his organization’s downfall.

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