What Vulnerability teaches Leaders

The highest form of leadership understands vulnerability

The highest form of leadership understands vulnerability.


I have confidence in the claims of Brené Brown – being vulnerable is a strength.  Popular culture teaches us that we must be strong – we must be victorious whenever possible, and occasionally dominate .  The role of “boss,” “manager,” and “supervisor” all suggest that the voice of authority should be unshakeable, nearly perfect in their knowledge. If the boss is vulnerable, does this mean that his or her knowledge is flawed?  Can this person to lead well?  Does this person understand justice?  Does the manager have moral authority?   The vulnerable person, we may think, is weak and subject to pressure from others.

I argue that the highest form of leadership understands vulnerability.  The best leaders know that they are not perfect, and constantly look within for ways to build their talent.  Further, the leader with vulnerability understands that others are imperfect too – and yet can work with the followers’ strengths in order to achieve significant outcomes.

Leaders may start their journey of influence denying their vulnerability.  Nevertheless, as the leader grows in knowledge and skill, the leader will need to acknowledge his or her weakness and treat it honestly in relations with others. Further, the person with recognized vulnerability does not have to be weak!   This person can be flexible and grow.   If one doesn’t recognize inner weakness, why should one want to change, find ways to improve?

Vulnerability teaches us to appreciate others.   The vulnerable leader knows that he or she is not complete and that others may be able to inform the leader.  Organizations employ many relevant talents, and the vulnerable leader has no need to pretend that he or she is the master of them all.  The great leader will appreciate others, learn from them, and give others meaningful challenges that use their talents.

Vulnerability keeps us humble.   Have you ever run into the big ego of a boss?  Do you know people who believe that all managers are tyrants and prefer to crush others?  The vulnerable leader understands that he or she is not better than others, that the ability to influence or use command power is a privilege.  Humility does not have to be a weakness; the leader can be strong in advancing the vision and enterprise, using all the talents at his or her disposal.  But catch an advanced leader after working hours, and you may discover a man or woman who will discuss his or her limitations, and is willing to work to expand what he or she can do.

Vulnerability encourages us to keep growing.    If you are asked to proceed out on the thin ice of possibility, you will want to be stronger, faster and flexible.  The vulnerable leader will not be satisfied to be the same; there will always be a need to continue growing. Vulnerability teaches us that we can improve what we can do.

Vulnerability encourages dialogue.  The vulnerable person knows that he or she needs allies.  Creation of dialogue makes this person stronger.  The vulnerable person can gain strength by admitting areas of vulnerability, and working on strength areas, merging forces with others of complementary talents.   Strategic dialogue is career power!

Look again at your vulnerable areas.  You want your team to be effective, so combining forces with other people of talent and skill is a natural consequence of creating the results you desire.   Be willing to stretch what you can do, and share the leadership perspective with other people of talent.

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