Why Being Vulnerable is Courageous and Contagious

When most people consider the word vulnerability, they think in terms of being weak or exposed and it’s not a quality to which they aspire. But, as you’ll see below, new research demonstrates that those who embrace their vulnerability have courage, compassion and connection, and these are qualities that serve business leaders – as well as all of us — well.

Researcher, storyteller and University of Houston professor, Brené Brown conducted research over the course of six years, interviewing thousands of people about situations in which they felt vulnerable. She determined that vulnerability is not a weakness but, rather, demonstrates the courage to “show up and be seen.” As Brown notes, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”  In fact, vulnerability can serve to refine a leader’s character and strengthen his or her authenticity.

Rob Asghar concurs with Brown that as human beings we are hard-wired to seek deep connection with others and that “the inability or unwillingness to be vulnerable is what makes us weaker at some deeper level.” He is a writer and management consultant and was an adviser and editor for many years to the late USC professor Warren Bennis, considered the father of modern leadership studies.

Vulnerability is also a bridge to more trusting relationships – a fundamental pillar in leadership effectiveness.  Leaders who are vulnerable are far more trusted by their employees,” says Ori Brafman, bestselling author of Click: The Magic of Instant Connections. Brafman explains that vulnerability is a valuable skill that can play a critical role in binding deep, immediate relationships in the workplace.

What vulnerability is not
Vulnerability is not “spilling your guts,” nor is it reacting without intention to what is going on around you.  It’s not ignoring the needs of others and working your own emotional agenda. It’s also not sharing intimate details that would garner “TMI” comments from others.

Vulnerability in action
It’s having the self-awareness to know and express imperfection and discomfort, a willingness to be transparent, and the ability to ask for help when you need it.  To that end, Susan Cooper, president of Empire Wealth Strategies, realized how important it is to allow herself to be vulnerable and seek assistance. I was lucky to work with Susan to help her identify new paths for growth for herself and her organization. Here’s what she shares about the process:

Making leaps in new directions:  Empire Wealth is transforming…and so is its leadership

“I’ve been in the same role for 30 years. I think we get tunnel vision in the way we do things. Having a strategic coach like Paulette helps me to understand myself and others and brings great value, allowing me to make quantum leaps in new strategic directions.”

“I have learned to better leverage my strengths and build upon my talents. I’ve gained a tremendous amount of self-awareness and understanding that has helped me identify new ways to grow. Furthermore, I’m absolutely doing things differently. I’m embarking on some major new models and processes for our organization, as well as helping others grow using what I’ve learned. Coaching is key to both mine and this organization‘s transformation.  I couldn’t have done it if I was not willing to take personal risks; in other words, to be vulnerable. But it takes insight, feedback and confidence to make those changes happen.”

What does vulnerability mean to you?
Can you think of times where you felt vulnerable? What happened? What did you do? What did you learn? What was the outcome?

Be vulnerable and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.



10 thoughts on “Why Being Vulnerable is Courageous and Contagious

  1. Paulette,

    I totally agree. Clearly some leaders view being vulnerable as a weakness but it is actually a strength if used wisely. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Paulette,
    Thank you for these terrific insights. I have found that in being vulnerable as a leader others view me as being more real. This adds to my credibility when I also need at times to be tough.

  3. Great article! I’ve seen leaders at their very best when they tell their teams they have not made a decision and are not clear about which road to take. Rather than believing they should always know the right answer, great leaders know when to invite, or even insist on having open dialogue about divergent points of view. Many of the best decisions require full consideration of different perspectives, options and potential impacts. While some leaders may view this as being vulnerable, I think it’s an essential leadership capability.

  4. It’s encouraging to see the experts endorsing the concept of vulnerability in leadership. The thought that a leader showing vulnerability is a sign of weakness has troubled me for a long time. Why is it acceptable if not encouraged to express this behavior in every other aspect of our lives but not in leadership. In my experience, leaders who aren’t afraid to show vulnerability gain additional respect for their transparency and honesty.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. I’ve always thought of vulnerability as a synonym for honesty and transparency, two traits that are prerequisites for getting things done at work and home.

    • Thanks for your comment. And it’s true…vulnerability is connected to transparency and it has the component of being self revealing. Powerful stuff.

  6. Great article. I have worked in management and non-management positions and vulnerability does show the people you work with a human element about yourself. I also feel that vulnerablity helps you build your character. Character is who you are, but reputation is what people think you are. Showing vulnerability shows others that you have compassion. Compassion is a missing trait in our workplace society.

      • I believe compassion begets vulnerability. When you genuinely show that you care or can empathize with a situation you open up the lines of communication. Listening and asking questions builds your credibility, so you can connect and show that you may not have all the answers, but are willing to work with individuals or teams to find solutions and opportunities for growth on both sides of the working relationship. This open and honest communication leads to transparency once trust has been established and makes even the difficult conversations a leader needs to have with direct reports, peers, or other partners much easier and the good ones more effective.

        • Wonderful and helpful commentary, Kevin. Since nothing is ever perfect, we all have find ways to communicate that inspires trust…you are so right about this.

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