The fabulous Brené Brown describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. It is that unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen control. I would say it’s most definitely a strength and not a weakness, but should leaders show vulnerability?

Stepping out of your comfort zone with vulnerability

Stepping out of your comfort zone evokes all kind of emotions and uncertainties but if you want to truly grow, it’s a necessary action. In the past year, I have seen the rise in showing vulnerability in the workplace, which is a very good thing. The uncertainty of the past year means that no one had the answers. No matter how senior they were – this exposed leaders as being as vulnerable as the rest of us.

People in senior roles were navigating this tricky path from both humanistic and commercial inroads. Keeping a close eye on team morale, wellbeing and mental health and another on the pressures of the business and what needed to be delivered.

Holding a space for vulnerability

What I’ve seen during this time is that the best leaders and managers achieved this balance best when they allowed themselves to be vulnerable and for others to do the same. This rawness, honestly and openness paved way for real conversations, understanding and action that was sincere, authentic and powerful. And, importantly, exposed the others that weren’t leading this way.

When big men think they know best

We saw a lot of gung-ho leadership from the most powerful people in the country during the pandemic fuelled with contradictory messaging, a know-it-all attitude and unrealistic confidence. This ignited fear, insecurity and uncertainty. If they had shown a little vulnerability and instilled the message that we are in this together, the reaction and camaraderie may have been very different. When it comes to politics, should leaders show vulnerability? Just look at Jacinda Ardern, I wrote in a blog last year about how she showed humility, empathy and vulnerability and she has led well because of it.

Owning our vulnerability

Brené Brown talks a lot about owning our vulnerability and understanding it as it is the birthplace of courage and meaningful experiences and decisions in our lives. From vulnerability can grow amazing things. I’ve seen it myself, as when people strip off the emotional layers some incredible things can be built. I dare say we are all vulnerable at times, even the people we think wouldn’t be, so why was vulnerability seen as a weakness? I spoke about this on my recent podcast discussion with John Ryan too.

Being vulnerable is scary; it’s exposing, and it shows us as who we really are. It takes a lot of courage to do that. But the world of the shiny perfection I feel is dwindling instead thankfully replaced by authenticity and realness.

So if a leader is vulnerable, they are also showing courage – it’s one of the bravest acts

Humility and vulnerability has seen us right

It is no coincidence that the public gravitated towards the small, independent businesses during the past year. There was a deep sense of loyalty and support that the bigger names didn’t always generate. The business owners that allowed themselves to be vulnerable and unsure attracted their audience. People stuck with them and have stayed when life has returned to some semblance of normality.

I will summarise again with the amazing Brené Brown on this as she can say it a lot better than me and I do encourage you to watch her Ted Talk on this very topic.

“Vulnerability is a path back to each other, but we’re so afraid to get on it.”

Let’s hope after the last year, the fear has subsided a bit.