Embracing vulnerability in leadership: A path to empowerment

expressing vulnerability

Leadership competencies have their staples, the ones everyone expects like analytical or negotiation skills. While these competencies are undeniably quintessential to being an effective leader, they are not sufficient to make the best leaders. To get to this result, you need additional key leadership competencies. One of them is called vulnerability in leadership. Yes, you read it right! Not only showing vulnerability is a competency but it can help your business in so many ways. But before reviewing its benefits and the steps to implement it, let’s see in detail what it is all about.

Product Manager – Coachyz
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Embracing vulnerability in leadership: A path to empowerment

Vulnerability in leadership: definition

Traditionally, leaders are expected to embody strength, exude confidence, and show great resilience. Vulnerability, on the other hand, is commonly associated with weakness or fragility. However, this conventional view fails to capture the nuanced role vulnerability plays in effective leadership. To truly grasp the full potential of vulnerability in leadership, we first need to debunk the myths surrounding it.

Stereotypes and cultural expectations

In many corporate cultures and organizational contexts, leaders are idolized as infallible figures who exude unyielding strength and unwavering confidence. Usually, this portrayal of leadership actually stems from deeply ingrained societal stereotypes that equate vulnerability with incompetence or inadequacy. Leaders who display vulnerability may be viewed as lacking the fortitude necessary to lead effectively.

Subsequently, the fear of being perceived as weak or flawed can compel leaders to adopt a façade of invulnerability. This poses a threat to growth and greater innovation among the company because :

  • at best, it prevents the leader from genuinely connecting with their teams;
  • at worst, it condones toxic behaviors at every level of the organization.

Distinguishing weakness from vulnerability

While the concepts of vulnerability are often conflated, they are distinct concepts with divergent implications for leadership :

  • Weakness implies a deficiency or incapacity that undermines one’s ability to perform effectively. It is characterized by a lack of resilience, self-awareness, and emotional maturity.
  • In contrast, vulnerability involves a conscious choice to embrace uncertainty, discomfort, and authenticity in pursuit of growth and connection. Vulnerable leaders acknowledge their vulnerabilities without allowing them to undermine their efficacy or diminish their leadership impact.

Redefining vulnerability as a strength

So no, contrary to popular belief, vulnerability is not just another word for weakness. Instead, it is a hallmark of authenticity, courage, and emotional intelligence in leadership. Brené Brown, a renowned researcher on vulnerability, defines it as “the willingness to show up and be seen when you can’t control the outcome”. This definition comes from her books “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Daring Greatly“.

Embracing vulnerability helps leaders in many ways that we’ll see a bit further on. But we can already say that it contributes to cultivating trust and meaningful relationships, and it helps inspire loyalty among team members. When leaders acknowledge their limitations, share their struggles, and admit mistakes openly, they establish the proverbial safe space where individuals feel empowered to take risks, innovate, and contribute their best work.

Fostering vulnerability in leadership

To harness the power of vulnerability in leadership within your organization, you need to foster a culture that values:

  • authenticity;
  • empathy;
  • openness.

To achieve this, lead by example. Share your stories, develop emotional intelligence and compassion, and create spaces for dialogue and collaboration wherever you deem it necessary.

Maybe also consider providing training and support to learn how not to take things personally or to avoid binary questions during feedback sessions. It will help all your decision makers (including yourself) and managers to navigate challenges with grace and authenticity.

The importance of vulnerability for effective leadership

Embracing vulnerability in leadership

Building trust and meaningful relationships

When you embrace vulnerability as a leader, you ignite trust within your team or organization. By being entirely transparent about your own vulnerabilities you humanize yourself in the eyes of your team members:

  • admitting mistakes;
  • sharing your own first-hand experience;
  • expressing doubts.

In turn, this human connection calls for empathy and understanding from your employees and associates which obviously lays the groundwork for stronger, more resilient relationships.

Impact on corporate culture and employee engagement

In corporate culture, vulnerability plays a pivotal role in creating an environment where employees feel safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and just be themselves.

When you, as a leader, embrace vulnerability, you cultivate a sense of psychological safety, leading to increased confidence and trust among team members. Overall, employees feel valued and appreciated for who they are and they have every reason to feel fully onboard.

Reinforcing authenticity

Authenticity is a cornerstone of effective leadership, and vulnerability is a powerful tool for reinforcing authenticity. When you are willing to show your true self, flaws and all, you earn the respect and loyalty of your team members. This is all a virtuous circle because as you see, authenticity helps build trust which helps with employee engagement, etc.

Examples from the corporate world

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, is quite a good example of the power of vulnerability in leadership. He has publicly shared personal stories of challenges he faced in his career and has been open about his own struggles with empathy and emotional intelligence. By embracing vulnerability, Nadella has built a culture of trust and collaboration at Microsoft, driving innovation and growth.

Similarly, Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, is known for his humble and transparent leadership style. Catmull has spoken openly about the failures and setbacks Pixar faced on its journey to success. Because he set a culture where it’s okay to fail and express vulnerability, Catmull has fostered a creative and dynamic environment where employees feel empowered to take risks and push the boundaries of their creativity.

Steps to embracing vulnerability in leadership

vulnerability in leadership

Recognition and acceptance of one’s own limitations and errors

To truly embrace vulnerability in leadership, you must first recognize and accept your own limitations and errors. As a leader, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that you must have all the answers and always be right.

However, this mindset can be detrimental to both yourself and your team. Acknowledge that you are not infallible and that you too can make mistakes, you will be doing yourself and your team a favor. Of course, it takes courage to admit when you’re wrong or when you don’t have all the answers, but doing so is the first step to build trust and respect among your team members.

Encouragement of openness and transparency

Once you’ve come to terms with your own vulnerabilities, the next step is to encourage openness and transparency within your team. Create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Once again, lead by example: be open about your own experiences and challenges. When team members see that you are willing to be vulnerable, they are more likely to follow suit, and your whole organization will value honesty and trust.

Development of empathy and active listening

Empathy and active listening are essential skills for any leader looking to embrace vulnerability. Take the time to truly understand the perspectives and emotions of your team members. Show genuine interest in their well-being and be attentive to their needs. By demonstrating empathy and listening actively, you show your team members that you value them as individuals and that you are invested in their success.

Practice self-reflection and personal growth

Embracing vulnerability in leadership also requires a commitment to self-reflection and personal growth. Regularly take the time to examine your own :

  • thought processes;
  • emotions;
  • behaviors.

Reflect on your interactions with your team members and consider how you can improve as a leader. Identify areas where you may need to work on being more open or vulnerable, and make a conscious effort to address them. By continuously striving for personal growth, you set yet another positive example for your team and create an environment where vulnerability is valued and encouraged.

Finding the balance between vulnerability and authority

Finally, finding the right balance between vulnerability and authority is key to effective leadership. While it’s important to show vulnerability as a leader, it’s also essential to maintain a sense of authority and direction.

The general idea is to be approachable and authentic while also providing guidance and direction when needed. Remember that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but rather a strength that can help you connect with your team on a deeper level.

In conclusion, vulnerability is not so much a choice as a fact: every leader has their own vulnerabilities and there is nothing to be done about it. What is up to you though is whether you chose to hide them or show them. The latter is the one in your best interest: authenticity, trust, motivation, this is the way to drive your organization toward long term growth and greater innovation.

If you value innovation, continuous self-improvement and possess a passion for learning. If you believe in fulfilling your potential and striving to become the best version of yourself as a leader or as a manager, then embark on your journey with CoachYZ!

expressing vulnerability
Product Manager – Coachyz

Coaching remains an essential tool in our toolbox, despite the ever-changing professional world. In the digital age, our approach has evolved from simply informing journalists to delivering rich, engaging content directly to our target audience. Good coaching must be personalized, relevant and adapted to the digital world to ensure optimal online visibility. What’s more, the incorporation of multimedia supports such as videos, images and interactive links can considerably enhance its impact. 

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As defined by Brené Brown, in leadership, vulnerability is the willingness of a leader to show their true self, including admitting mistakes, sharing personal stories, and expressing doubts or uncertainties. It involves being open, honest, and authentic with team members, even when it means revealing shortcomings or insecurities.

An example of vulnerability in a leader is when they admit to making a mistake and take responsibility for it publicly. For instance, a leader might acknowledge a decision that didn’t yield the desired outcome and discuss what they learned from the experience. Another example could be a leader sharing a personal struggle or challenge they faced and how it impacted their decision-making or leadership style.

Everyone has their vulnerabilities, whether they like it or not. Showing vulnerability is important because, as a leader, you humanize yourself in the eyes of your team members. It is then easier for them to relate to you and even to approach you. This, in turn, encourages open communication, creativity, and collaboration, ultimately driving organizational success.

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