How do you view vulnerability – as a strength or a weakness? Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable as a leader? Is it appropriate?

The other day I was watching a video interview of Dr Brene Brown, one of my favourite speakers. She is a researcher and has done a lot of work on shame and vulnerability. She describes vulnerability as:

“uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”

For me, vulnerability is about being seen – really seen. We are human and being human means imperfection so why hide that?

It’s about authenticity. We buy in to people that are genuine but what is it that makes them genuine? They allow themselves to be seen – vulnerabilities and all. They don’t let their ego get in the way. They don’t allow fear to block their path.

Why do we shy away from vulnerability?

Being vulnerable is walking in to a meeting and saying I don’t know what to do.

Have you ever done that? How could you possibly? How would it look? Why would you…aren’t you supposed to know it all?

Why do we avoid these situations? Well, it’s all about fear of shame. The ironic thing is that this honesty, this vulnerability, this exposure is exactly what will bring the team closer together and lead to higher engagement and performance!

In this scenario, we fear we will be looked down on, cast out, forever tarnished as the person who cannot do their job. But in all likelihood, the team around you will rally. They will help you come up with ideas, feel appreciated for the engagement and responsibility and they will respect you much more because you are honest.

Just how powerful is vulnerability as a leadership tool?

Dr Brene Brown takes this idea further and discusses a snowball effect, where when the leader is brave, stands up and is honest, their team will begin to do the same with their teams and it will continue to cascade throughout the organisation.

As a result, your teams are going to work closer together, they are going to trust and support each other – all leading to the perfectly, well-oiled machine you want your leadership team to be!

I was running a workshop on values with a management team and as you may know, trust is imperative in high performing teams. I invited the team to be vulnerable with one another and open up and share something important to them that they wouldn’t normally share. As soon as they did this something changed in the room – they became deeply connected as human beings and felt ok about being imperfect.

As a leader, it can feel counterintuitive to own your vulnerability. We are often taught to hide anything that can be seen as a weakness and only to project strength and power…but think of the power your team will have when they know and understand you, when they:

  • know when you don’t know,
  • feel how you really feel,
  • see the real you,
  • know when you have messed up,
  • know when you are sorry,
  • see you are practising what you preach.

Just consider for a moment how powerful this could be.

Successful leaders fully embrace vulnerability as a strength not a weakness. If your team believe in you – the real YOU, they are more likely to:

  • trust you and do anything for you and the organisation,
  • follow your lead,
  • engage in your vision,
  • help you succeed,
  • be creative and help solve problems.

How do I step into vulnerability?

So, how do we achieve this when we’ve spent so long carefully hiding all of our flaws and our disjointed thoughts? Start with these four steps:

  1. Be willing to let go of who you think you should be and be you.
  2. Give yourself permission to be more of you at work.
  3. Allow yourself to ask for help when you need it.
  4. Say you don’t know what to do next if you really don’t.
  5. Be open about how you think and feel at times when it is necessary.
  6. Create opportunities for you and the team to be vulnerable with one another.

Give it a test and see how it works for you!