The Experts: Alicia Barker on Embracing Vulnerability as Your Greatest Leadership Strength

Alicia Barker

Chief Operating Officer, Staffing 360 Solutions, Inc.

Alicia is currently the Chief Operating Officer at Staffing 360 Solutions, Inc. She is a dynamic, highly-regarded HR Executive and Certified Professional Coach. She brings 20 years of experience from a variety of fast-paced, competitive industries. She has served in leadership roles for publicly traded companies, independently-owned boutiques and international advertising agencies. Ms. Barker has managed large teams and provided professional development and Executive Coaching to a wide variety of professionals.

Welcome to our video series, The Experts. In the series, we interview staffing and recruitment leaders to hear their perspectives on industry trends, lessons they’ve learned in the careers, and their leadership philosophies.

In this clip, Alicia Barker, Chief Operating Officer at Staffing 360 Solutions, explains why a lack of vulnerability as a leader often leads to teams making more mistakes.

What is your leadership or management style?

Alicia Barker: My leadership style is very open, very self-effacing, and has a lot of humor. I’m a very good communicator and a very good team builder. I give my team a lot of room on a lot of autonomy–I like to let them shine and I really love to step away and see what they’re capable of doing on their own without too much micromanagement. But I have their back and I give them a lot of ground cover.

Should leaders show vulnerability?

AB: I think it’s very important for leaders to show vulnerability. If you don’t create an environment where people know that you’re fallible, then they’re afraid to show their own vulnerability. And when people don’t show their own vulnerability and they’re afraid to ask questions and that’s when pretty significant mistakes get made. And when you show that you’re vulnerable and you allow people to take risks, I think that you see better work and better productivity from them and I think that you establish a much greater bond and trust between you and them.

What is the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?

AB: It was fairly recent actually. I was recently told by my boss while we were dealing with a very difficult situation and because it was so impactful to the company, I was stepping back a little bit and allowing him to handle it because I didn’t want to do anything that would make the situation any more difficult for him. And he called me and he said, “You need to step forward and give me some cover here.” And I realized that even at the very top, because I report to the chairman and CEO, nobody likes to completely stand on their own and they do need support. It was very good advice and it made me reframe my thinking on when to get involved and when to step back. 

Why should firms encourage dialogue between teams?

AB: The benefit of establishing frank dialogue and disagreement between teams is that it allows for a healthy debate and I think that very strong teams know how to argue. We have a saying in our company that you can disagree, just not disagreeably. It’s about how you do it and I think that it’s really important that people can have those frank discussions face-to-face with each other. It creates a lot of trust and there’s not the worry that people are leaving that room and talking about it behind someone’s back or behind a different closed door. I don’t think that you get to a good solution without being able to disagree. And while I’m not a fan of terribly aggressive dialogue between people, there’s a way to do it very gracefully and very graciously and I think that it’s essential to any healthy business.

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