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How do I become an inspiring leader? Be vulnerable

In his weekly “Dear Founder” column, Maynard Webb offers advice on how to build credibility and trust.

How do I become an inspiring leader? Be vulnerable
[Image: Vladimir Obradovic/iStock]

Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. How do you go from being a manager to becoming an inspiring leader?

–Aspiring Silicon Valley CEO

Dear Founder,

This is a good question. If you’ll indulge me, allow me to share a personal story as I also struggled with this, although I was not fully aware of it.

For me everything shifted when I read a book called Radical Change/Radical Results and we began to work with the authors, Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson, to help resolve some of the issues we were facing at eBay. As these coaches helped to transform eBay, they helped me transform my life as well. Until I worked with them, I was ashamed of my past. I was aware that I didn’t look like the leaders I knew or have a pedigree that was prized. I didn’t have a typical childhood or go to an elite college and I started my career as a security guard. I was not forthcoming about these things originally because I thought they would hold me back, and later because I didn’t want to be seen as a sad case.

Kate and Eddie had a different perspective. They told me that I should embrace my past and talk about it. They said it would be inspirational to others. Initially I was skeptical, but they were right. I began to share my story and step out of the shadows. I began to have fireside chats and work with people on a more personal–and a more human–level. And here is the point: In shifting my thinking from it being about me (and what I wanted to reveal or not) to it being about trying to serve other people, I became a leader.

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You go from being a manager to becoming an inspiring leader when:

  • You are authentic.
  • You are transparent.
  • You admit mistakes and seek forgiveness.
  • You are vulnerable.

Whether you are a manager or a leader, you need to establish credibility so people trust that you are going to do what you promise you’ll do. But being a leader is about more than getting stuff done. A leader is responsible for selling a vision and inspiring people to become better than they ever imagined. That’s a hard role, but if you dig deep into yourself you will find that the skills that you need are all there.

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