Vulnerability as a key trait of a courageous Leader

Vulnerability is an inescapable trait. It exposes a person to his/her weakness to the world and leaves everything out there for people to judge. So should Vulnerability be considered a weakness or an asset in a person performing the role of a leader?

Tracing back to its origin, vulnerability is taken from the Latin word ‘vulnus’ which means being susceptible to attack or harm! Looking superficially, It can be a rather scary trait for a leader. Vulnerability makes a person human! It reveals the flaws of a person when he or she needs to set a perfect example of leadership.

When a leader makes a blunder with respect to a key decision at work, what would be the best course of action to be followed by him? Accept it was his fault and that he couldn’t gauge all the protocols beforehand, or should he hide the misjudgement. Should he portray that the decision wasn’t entirely his fault for things didn’t work out well? He could be misjudged and a wrongful perception about him might be perceived by the employees throughout his tenure. 

When a leader accepts a situation going wrong or that went wrong due to his / her decisions there is ownership of the process, responsibility being taken and less of the messy blame game that wouldn’t  really help anybody in the long run.

In case a leader hides his vulnerability and portrays himself to be firm and courageous all the time, there is a possibility of not thinking through a decision. When the leader makes a decision and it turns out to be wrong and he doesn’t have the courage to own it, then that decision and its denial hits other processes or departments invariably, causing damage to not just the people but the organization as a whole. Covering up one’s mistakes or not thinking through the workings of a company will simply bring a company down and it takes years to correct such mistakes. Such situations can be corrected and controlled by simply accepting and taking ownership early on itself. But it’s easier said than done. It needs a lot of courage and a ruthless form of no self-denial for a leader to take ownership of all his decisions irrespective of their outcome.

How does vulnerability help in making a great leader?

  1. Understanding that Vulnerability is an inescapable trait– A leader need not go into every situation with the mindset that he is vulnerable all the time, but be aware of the fact that it can hit you anytime during the course of the career when you least expect to. One has to be brave and courageous as it’s a trait that everyone embodies.
  2. More learning opportunity – When a leader is faced with a bad situation resulting from the outcome of his/her decision, instead of retracting back and blaming other factors, it gives him/her an opportunity as the leader to identify what is required of him/her to take control of the situation and take it as a learning opportunity. Leaders who do not embrace vulnerability stunt their growth as an individual. They do not develop as they fail to embrace these opportunities as learning experiences, eventually succumbing to stagnation. 
  3. Build trust amongst peers, team members and in the company– When a leader accepts making a mistake, it’s a huge opportunity to show everyone that people in power are in fact not perfect. Not just owning mistakes but being transparent about the competitive forces, challenges that the organization is going through would help the employees develop trust in their leader and help them realize that they all have to work hard as a team for the organization to succeed. Hence, possibly the most important emotional quotient of trust is forged between all levels of the company when the leader exudes honesty and diligence.
  4. Give Opportunities to others – When leaders realize that they can be vulnerable in some situations for they don’t have the expertise and skills in that field, to go ahead and follow Steve Jobs advice-“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” is probably the best course of action. This is a great advice for leaders to live by and there’s no better example than Apple Inc.
  5. Demonstrate empathy– When leaders are open about the challenges an organization is facing or an area of expertise they lack in, asking for help graciously from team members and departmental staff would only benefit them. This gives employees an opportunity to empathize with the leader, thus creating stronger bonds and encouraging team work. It also drives a culture of empathy throughout the organization rather than authority.
  6. Change work culture of an organization– Vulnerable leaders help promote growth and trust by showing that they are also just one of the employees, just with more experience and maybe more technical knowledge, leading to a stress free work culture where communication and empathy take the wheel. Such leaders are most connected with the people of their organization! This is one of the most crucial traits of a courageous, compassionate and discerning leader.

 But as all things do, there’s another side to vulnerability.

Most companies do not reveal their vulnerabilities openly such as the threats and challenges they face externally and internally, as sharing such details results in employees putting low faith and confidence in the company attributing to high attrition. Usually companies always reveal the encouraging and good news of the organization through their newsletters and communications as focussing on the positivities is much better since perceptions are easily formed immaturely.

Brené Brown conducted extensive research over a period of 6 years during her PhD. She revealed at one of her Ted Talks on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’  that when a person knows their worthiness and values themselves then such leaders tend not to dwell on shame and self-doubt for a long time after making a mistake due to their vulnerability, unlike a person who would hide it or dwell on shame and a sense of unworthiness after making that mistake. It doesn’t mean that you’re any less compassionate of a leader. It is invaluable for a person to realize that vulnerability needs to be embraced and not be subjected to denial for them to make a great leader!

How different are the Millennials compared to the previous generation and why? How to lead them effectively!

The things that come to mind first when you hear the word millennial are generally: A bunch of highly individualistic people who are unconventional, need some sort of inspiration to drive them constantly, love people and collaborating with them, and don’t like to be restricted by boundaries. Millennial’s are overly sensitive folk, they empathize. It has been researched that by the year 2025, millennial’s will constitute nearly 75% of the entire world’s population! So to work with them, managers will have to adapt accordingly to their strong characteristics and work ethos.

The term ‘Millennial’ refers to people from the age group of 22 to 37 born between 1981 to 1996, and the previous generation referred to as the Generation X constitutes people from age group 35-50 born between the years 1965-1980.

John o’Leary who interviewed top business leaders for the Harvard Business Review came to the conclusion that millennial’s as individuals look for respect, mentor-ship, collaboration and professional development in their lives. Their approach a far cry from the top-down management approach of Gen X.

Let’s see what makes millennial’s different from the previous generation.

Approach to Learning

Millennial’s favor internet based learning rather than the primitive classroom approach. They try to seek knowledge from more creative mediums and look for answers on Google, YouTube and such platforms. Their approach to learning is more through unique and interactive ways rather than attending long classroom sessions. Millennial’s grew up during the boom of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and these have become an integral part of their lifestyles. 


Millennial’s are curious and always willing to learn different aspects of their job resulting in loss of interest in stagnant work environments. This generally leads to job-hopping within a span of 2-5 years. This is a stark difference between the previous generations which customarily stayed on in a company for their entire working lifetime, leaving them redundant as they did the same thing for years at end. A survey conducted by Gallup discovered that half of the millennial’s believed that they might not be working for their company in 1 years time from now whereas almost 60% of the non-millennial’s would continue to work for at-least 1 year. The only way to retain the millennial workforce is for the leaders to effectively learn how to manage them. 

Empowerment rather than management

The biggest difference between the previous generation and millennial’s is in the way they expect to be lead. Millennial’s need to be respected and given authority, they need the opportunity to be leaders in their specific roles. Hence they prefer empowerment rather than management. They work to their full potential when given the authority and space without much restrictions. Managers need to take this into consideration and ensure that the millennial’s are given this opportunity while making sure they have a safe place for failure. As the author Craig Groeschel said “If you delegate tasks, you create followers. If you delegate authority, you create leaders”. By empowering them, millennial’s can be lead to become great employees and greater leaders.

Constant Acknowledgement

Millennial’s tend to see the bigger picture and work and work towards a goal that is part of something big. They want to know that they are making a contribution to the world with their work. While growing up, they have always been appreciated for all their achievements in school and college. They appreciate being acknowledged for their efforts. Millennial’s wish to be reassured that their efforts have meaning and are making a difference to the world. Regular feedback is what keeps millennial’s motivated.

Importance of balance between work and professional life

Research by Pew Center shows that millennial’s prefer quality of life. They prioritize their family, marriage and time with kids. Millennial’s are achievers and don’t like to be confined with 9-6 day jobs, they much prefer working freelance. Millennial’s wish to take ownership of their work! They prefer flexible working hours and paid vacations which is very unlike the previous generation who believed in long working sessions. Millennial’s prefer having a healthy work–life balance and prioritize health and family.

Money is secondary

Millennial’s aren’t squarely focused on the monetary compensation and enjoy other things that come with the job – like meeting new people, interesting work roles, and a flexible and relaxed working environment. Although they do care about the monetary aspect, but it is not the primary driver for them. They are more attracted to the cross-functional roles and executive positions that make an impact to the world. Since the millennial’s like learning from and working alongside interesting people, they aren’t interested in vertical promotions. They crave for interesting experiences from their career paths. 

How to lead millennial’s

Millennial’s prefer counselling and mentoring leaders rather than bosses. They wish for collaborative work where they regard the boss as a team mentor rather than a team captain. So, leaders must be open to learning as well and not just leading. Keeping the communication lines open with the millennial employees proves incredibly beneficial. Millennial’s need to be lead not from a sense of leadership but from a sense of service for they constantly seek for guidance and feedback from their managers. In case, they don’t receive such treatment, they are quick to move someplace else.

Millennial’s are incredibly good at promoting themselves publicly. To nurture that skill it’s beneficial to expose them to job fairs, branding and marketing groups etc. They have the prowess to use their personal experiences and promote them as powerful marketing tools. Leaders need to be able to identify such socially dexterous millennial’s and promote them as brand ambassadors for their company or team. 

The millennial’s are a very different bunch. They are young, dynamic and creative. They have a wide range of opportunities and expect more than monetary compensation for their work. A Gallup survey threw up that one of the reasons a millennial chooses a company are the learning opportunities that they get. Millennial’s are the future and if the organization uses new age training methods that are frolic and enticing, they would really appreciate the investment the organization is making in them. 

Imbibing cultural values, commitment and vision of the organization in innovative ways are critical to the organization’s success, growth and their ability to face perils. 

Reference sources:

What it takes to be an Empowering Leader rather than a Micromanaging Boss

team building activities for employee engagement

Would you rather work for a boss who micromanages or a boss who empowers you?  

The transition that one makes from an employee to a leader is a colossal one and it requires a lot of mentor-ship and support. The qualities needed to become a  good leader take time to imbibe. The future leaders are still learning and working their way up. What if they don’t receive the correct guidance and navigation because their boss believes in micromanagement rather than empowerment?

This article is not about what happens to employees who deal with a micromanaging boss or what it takes to be a great leader by listing out all the qualities but rather it talks about the premises of why someone becomes a micromanaging boss and what it takes to make that much needed transition to a compassionate and empowering boss.

Sometimes people are thrust upon leadership roles when they still need time to evolve. They come with their own insecurities, beliefs and in-capacities.  

Case 1

For instance, due to great zeal and determination an employee does well at their job. At the next promotion, the targets are even bigger so the employee continues to push forward with even greater zeal to accomplish them, overcoming whatever comes in the way and finally managing to get the much deserved promotion. Eventually, the same person is now in a leadership role and has to lead a group of people. He now needs to guide his team to achieve their targets just the way he did. Would it be easy for him to interpret to that group of people, the same approach he used to reach where he is. Well, not really! Consequently the zeal that he showed in his work would be lacking in his team members. A manager might not able to convey his work approach to his team, ergo, a fear develops in the manager of not being able to succeed as a leader. When a leader who has learnt only to work the hard way faces the task to empower with words and actions, he’s bound to feel out of his element. He may not have developed people management skills along the way, hence he’s bound to resort to other means. That’s when most managers start micromanaging.

Micromanagement can be misconstrued by the employees at times. When a team is newly formed or a deadline is approaching then managers must take it upon themselves to assist the team. Newly appointed members require audience and nurturing until they are effectively aligned with the company’s goal. When an approaching deadline has to be met, without micromanagement the team members are bound lack in accountability and lack responsibility. Micromanagement can be used as an effective method until they are trained and realize their responsibilities.

Case 2

Here’s another instance about a workplace where employees were working in the sales department and their manager would call every hour to check if any sales had been made! The employees understood that their manager was in turn being pressurized by his superiors and other heads in the same way. And the pressure only trickled down to the employees. In cases like these micromanagement is almost inevitable. But, it has its downfalls, by the end of the quarter most of the employees from that department had quit the company. The ones that stayed were the tougher lot with a higher level of tolerance and they were going through the ordeal to make things work somehow. So micromanaging can be helpful at times but more often than not cause mayhem. It squarely depends on how well the employees handle the pressure.

There could be many other circumstances when a leader becomes a micro manager, maybe the way they were treated by their bosses during their tenure, the unsupported circumstances through which they navigated to become successful, fear of not being in control of the team,  the desire of being in power and successful at all times, constant pressure from the senior executives. But no matter the reason, micromanagement is just one of the sadistic traits of a leader.

Sometimes employees take too much time in completing their tasks, that’s one of the biggest causes of micromanagement for leaders. All things considered, nobody actually likes breathing down someone’s neck, nitpicking on every single detail, getting the work figures every hour! It’s not just frustrating and disrespectful but it essentially breeds a culture of hate and mistrust. 

A study by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business proved that employees who had more freedom at their work were less prone to stress-triggers and enjoyed a healthier lifestyle. The research data suggested that time pressure, controlling bosses, with a high degree of work concentration along with a poor work-life balance as some of the reasons for the employees being unproductive.

How does one transition from being a micromanaging boss to an empowering leader?

Strategy 1

Re-assurance and building trust over time from the employees’ side can help managers to become more trusting and stop micromanaging tasks. When an employee knows and is able to identify the underlying cause of the managers behavior, there is nothing wrong in an employee putting in effort and making things work between them. This endeavor need not be taken as a huge project or responsibility but, the employee can simply look for ways to deal with the situation maturely. It can be the prerogative of the employee to break the cycle of mistrust. This doesn’t mean that the leader is of any less capacity to lead but just has a particular flaw which they are unaware of and needs to be worked on. Employees can demonstrate compassion and trustworthiness with a manager that is unsure in his ability to lead. Here, we’re not talking about leaders who have inherently sadistic personalities who see pain as an effective teaching method. Sadly, many such individuals can be found in organizations around the world. 

Strategy 2

Communication is the best way to overcome such situations. Making such a manager is aware of his actions and being communicative about how it’s taking a toll on others would help in eliminating such a trait.  By breaking barriers and building trust, managers can soften up. Trust is a major factor here and a lot of work has to be done to build it. But it’s all for naught if the manager isn’t open to learning and accepting feedback.

Strategy 3

Incorporating Learning and Development programs can help in identifying the teams’ reason for poor performance, high rate of attrition and analyze if it’s due to micromanagement or any other element. These checks are performed by Learning and Development programs through various activities. These development programs can also teach and assist managers in shifting the balance from micromanagement to compassionate leadership through role-plays and other activities.

More likely than not, when a person builds a bridge he/she can help the other person evolve as well.  While doing so the managers will be able to understand that employees are taking the effort of building trust and will definitely be more willing to change their patterns. Thus, in some instances the employees can go a long way in helping to empower their boss.