When Should Leaders Be Vulnerable?

Vulnerability has many negative connotations. It evokes feelings of weakness, risk and surrender. We often equate leadership with strength, certainty and defense. Is there any time when it makes sense to be vulnerable as a leader? Is there a place for vulnerability in the workplace?

It’s worth noting that some of the most meaningful parts of life come when we open ourselves up to others. When we travel to new places, start learning a new skill or meet someone new, we are taking a risk. Every time a co-worker offers up a new idea or way of doing things, they are displaying vulnerability. As a matter of fact, Brene Brown, researcher at the University of Houston, says that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, trust and engagement.”

For this reason, it’s worth asking a couple questions to explore our assumptions about vulnerability:

What am I afraid of?

Fear keeps us from being vulnerable. All too often, however, when we fear something we make it a much bigger threat than it is. By identifying and describing what we are afraid of, we can discover that the danger is actually a lot smaller than we expected.

What am I missing out on because I’m not being vulnerable?

Take a rational approach. If the fear of rejection is keeping you from sharing your big idea at work, think twice. Rejection often only stings for a short time. But what if you’re idea is well received by your manager and co-workers? Being vulnerable can lead to potential partnerships and new ventures that can pay dividends for years to come. We typically risk far less than we think. When we display even a small amount of vulnerability, others around us tend to be more vulnerable as well.

Those who follow us are simply waiting to see us put ourselves on the line for the cause. They will take risks once we do. As long as we play it safe, they will. They will trust us once we show that we trust them. Consider how your vulnerability this week can supercharge your team.

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