A former Google exec has some counterintuitive advice for aspiring bosses

The best thing a boss can do is communicate to their reports the type of leader they aspire to be and then say, “But I also am human.”

Photo: Brooke Lark

We hear a lot about “authentic” leadership and about the importance of establishing trust in the workplace.

Yet these concepts can easily seem vague, and fluffy, and somewhat irrelevant to the day-to-day responsibilities of a manager.

Lexi Reese has found a way to make them more actionable. Reese is the COO of Gusto, which makes human-resources software for small businesses; she previously held management roles at Google and American Express.

The best thing a boss can do, according to Reese, is communicate to their reports the type of leader they aspire to be and then say, “But I also am human and I’ll probably f—k it up.” Most importantly, the boss should encourage their reports to let them know when they’re falling short.

That’s instead of being the kind of boss who pretends they’re superhuman and never, ever slips up or needs guidance.

Some other execs agree. As Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat, wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “I’ve found that leaders who show their vulnerability, and admit that they are human, foster greater engagement among their associates.”

Whitehurst offered a personal example: the time when he acquired a company and marketed their product before it was ready, which resulted in missing a deadline by more than a year. Whitehurst admitted to the company and its board of directors that he had been wrong. He wrote, “Many Red Hatters told me how much they appreciated that I admitted my mistake. They also appreciated that I explained how I came to make the decision in the first place. That earned me their trust.”

As for Reese, she also encourages bosses to cut themselves some slack, by telling their team when they’re going to be under (temporary) pressure and may fall short of the lofty managerial goals they’ve set for themselves: “I’m not going to be the best person I can be right now, but could you just go with it?”

Reese said, “If you’ve established enough trust with people, I think generally speaking, they can handle that. If you haven’t, then you’re not going to have a great team for very long.”

She added, “As long as you’re consistently trying to do the right thing and you don’t cover up when you’ve not done it as well, then people want to help you fix it.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.