A HR exec explains a big problem for senior leaders: staff are less likely to tell them the truth

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Sometimes you have to step out, stand alone and say what might be obvious but no-one else will say it because they fear they may look silly.

Mary Lemonis, vice-president of human resources at Campbell Arnotts, talks about vulnerability and how this can be an indicator of those who will do well in the corporate world.

These are the ones who are prepared to speak up.

“The ones that get the furthest, the ones that get the best insights, the ones that take the biggest risks, the ones that really get more fulfilled through this work are the ones that are prepared to be vulnerable,” she says.

“They’re the ones that are prepared to dig deep and look in the mirror and say what’s working, what’s not, what am I scared of, what am I not scared of. And so I think it really talks to the importance of vulnerability.”

Lemonis, who is responsible for 5,800 employees across five countries, was speaking at the annual conference on leadership and culture by Human Synergistics, an Australian consulting firm in organisational culture.

“It’s about courage,” she says. “It’s about making sure that you are heard, that you are brave enough to put yourself out there and to be seen as you are.

“Secondly, it’s about truth. I used to work with a Texan back in the US who said to me, ‘Mary, you always speak truth to power. Don’t ever forget that’.”

Lemonis thinks the subtext to that was: Don’t make any Kamikaze moves with the CEO.

And this is the point at which an interesting phenomenon arises.

“Leadership is a lonely place,” she says.

“The more senior you get, the less truth you get.”

Most tell the CEO what they want to hear. Few speak honestly.

“The more you can help others be comfortable with sharing their truth and seek truth from other people, the more value we will actually engender,” she says.

Mary Lemonis. Image: supplied

“Great leaders take the time to reflect, to think about their mistakes, and to take accountability for them. It builds trust.”

Being vulnerable requires emotional exposure, a level of risk and uncertainty.

“But if we all step into that space, we will create more comfort with each other and we will really forge true connections, and meaningful dialogue,” she says.

“For those of you that are leaders of others, it is a two way street because it only works when you both are willing to be vulnerable.

“I’ve worked with leaders who get a lot but don’t necessarily give a lot, and they’re nowhere near as impactful as the ones for whom it is a two street.

“A new breed of leader is emerging one, who achieves high performance results by also being selfless, vulnerable, collaborative and humble.

“Take the time and care to know what floats people’s boats, and never forget that vulnerability is a two way street.”

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